I’m a ‘Millennial’ and I Hate Your Ads

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I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough of being in meetings with ad people who tell me what I want, what I like, and how I behave simply because I was born between 1980 and 2000. I’m bored of hearing “ah, that’s millennials for you!”, and I’m disappointed that, despite having so many brilliantly talented people in our industry, we’re turning to marketing astrology.

When I started as an intern, I was under the impression I’d left foreign languages at school but when you start at your first agency, buzzword bingo is real. I’ve often thought that if everyone in the meeting had to shot tequila for every time someone said, ‘brand love’, ‘holistic approach’ or ‘perfect synergy’, we’d actually be far more creative.

‘Millennial’ is becoming another wishy-washy term that agencies use, mainly to convince brands, and each other, that they actually know the consumer, without ever really trying. This results in generalizations like ‘millennials value experiences over material goods’.

One of my closest friends is happiest in charity shop clothes, with a can of Strongbow, having not showered for three days at a grime festival. The other drives a BMW, wears only designer and won’t drink Tesco’s own Prosecco (even at its finest). So, how can what they value be the same?

And, take a second to think about how much your responsibilities, values and beliefs have changed over the last 20 years. This huge ‘millennial’ grouping suggests a 37-year-old parent has more in common with their 18-year-old child (both millennials), then their 40 year old friend.

Pew Report, states that generations ‘have personalities’. Wrong. People have personalities, and they are all different. Of course, there’s no smoke without fire – nationwide factors impact a generation, creating shared behaviours or values. For example: the health of the economy, public policy, the values of society, and technology. But these generations are made up of subcultures that bring their own interests, behaviours and even languages. And then there are individuals influenced by a huge number of variables that determine how we interact with a message or a product, such as: education, financial status, culture, religious values, and past experience. All these influences intersect, making our interactions even more complex. To make massive generalisations and assume homogeneity across a two-decade birth period, is both lazy and limiting.

To understand, you only have to look around the traditional ad agency. Most agency people are friends with agency people, who date agency people, who live with agency people. There’s a danger in assuming that the behaviours we see in the young people in agencies apply to everybody in the country and ignoring what life is like for the majority of people in Britain.

If your audience is vague, your message will be

We literally consume ads wherever we look, on every platform we use. When I’m trying to watch a TED Talk about psychology on YouTube, I don’t want to be interrupted by an advert about microwave meals and if anything, I just feel fury towards the brand that’s stopping me from accessing the content I want.

Media buyers and agencies are the worst (culprits), sticking to conventional models of advertising and interrupting people through static or video content that they just don’t want to see. They justify this intrusion by claiming their messaging is ‘personalised’ because they targeted 10,000 different psychographic targets, with 18,000 different messages. Planners argue that they no longer have to choose between broad reach and targeting because machine learning lets them start wide and then let algorithms find their audience. In reality, it’s generic spam served through programmatic.

No wonder ad blockers are on the rise (with mobile adblocker usage growing by 108m YoY to reach 380m). Even the biggest ad platforms are trying to signal to brands they need to behave more effectively – Google, Apple, Facebook and Samsung are prioritizing user experience by offering new ways to limit intrusive ads. And subscription services like Netflix and Spotify are booming, with the promise of no ads and recommendation engines that suggest content based on preference and previous behavioural data (not based on your age bracket).

If the knowledge that consumers are blocking ads isn’t enough to make brands rethink, then perhaps the amount of ad fraud will be? It’s impossible to know if your advertising is even reaching the people it says it is, or if a series of bots are giving false impressions of page views and click throughs.

How can brands be better?

Recent research from the IPA and ISBA stated that 67% of marketers describe their approach to data analysis as “ad-hoc”.  Be specific, interrogate the data you’re given. I read a tweet last week that said, ‘talk about Big Data all you want. We all know 75% of marketing is based on that one anecdote from the woman in the focus group you did last year’. And it goes the other way too. So many people sit at their screens all day ingesting big data and slavishly adhering to trends without actually getting up, getting out and talking to people.

I believe the best insights are found when you combine qualitative and quantitative data. The wonderful strategist, Merry Baskin once told me: ‘quantitative data can tell you what people love or hate, qualitative research will tell you why.’ You can do a much better job if you know the why.

Use tech for good

One of the greatest advancements in technology, especially recent iterations such as digital assistants and AI, is its ability to allow brands to talk to consumers one-to-one and help brands to service people, making things faster, smarter, cheaper, safer or simply more convenient. And if you make a great service – brands won’t have to gatecrash into their customers personal space – they’ll be invited. Look at Uber, TGI Friday’s messenger bot, and KLM’s messenger bot. Know your consumer, understand their problem, then assist them with a valuable service to make their lives better.

I’m lucky that I work for an innovative agency, who have moved away from ads and towards services. We’re working with exciting brands, using technology to innovate, iterate and create products people actually want. We created Nike Coach with Nike, a service that offers consumers advice on how to improve their run, train smarter and find the right shoes for their needs. With Estée Lauder we developed Nighttime Expert, an assistant that helps women improve their skincare by designing  a personalised night time routine.

We shouldn’t be talking about the future of advertising. We should be talking about the future of marketing. And in this future, brands must ensure they are thinking long-term, learning from previous mistakes and outdated mindsets.

So please, stop sending generalised mass messages and digital spam to vague audiences. Start with the consumer, understand their needs, generate hypotheses, prototype services, test them, iterate. Repeat.

You must understand your audience to take your brand forward. Don’t just push and shout louder. This Millennial isn’t listening. But if you get to know what I like, then we can have a conversation.

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