I am bombarded by content claiming to provide me with the insight to unlock the mystery that is marketing to Millennials. Born between 1981 and 1997, Millennials formed a crest of childbirths of 66 million during those years, considerably higher than the 55 million Gen Xers that came before, if not quite the pig in a python that was the Baby Boom at 76 million.
But no generation lasts forever, and in 2015, Millennials surpassed the now-declining Baby Boomers for the first time, with Millennials reaching 75.4 million (immigration of same-aged added to childbirths) to Baby Boomers’ 74.9 million. Hey, size matters when it comes to selling consumer brands. But every generation reaching adulthood, gaining employment, forming families, as well as their own brand choices, is the critical “in play” target for CPG marketers.
If I buy the thrust of the “Marketing to Millennials” cognoscenti, there are deep mysteries about this generation with their sheer exoticism requiring marketers to strap on a whole new set of communication skills. But perhaps we can learn something deeper about marketing to Millennials and the generations of new adults that will follow them by turning to a member of “The Greatest Generation” (those born before 1928), who is also often considered advertising’s greatest practitioner:
“It took millions of years for man’s instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to even vary. It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.”
Bill Bernbach reminds us that forming strong links between our brands and Millennials will not come as the result of some new understanding of this generation, but in deeply understanding the needs of this important generation that never change.
Jim Crimmins, former chief strategic officer of DDB, builds on Bernbach’s idea of unchanging man in his newly published 7 Secrets of Persuasion, a scientific exploration of the art of persuasion. Like Bernbach, Crimmins advises us that rational arguments appealing to the conscious mind don’t work, and advertising that effectively changes consumer behavior taps into “the lizard inside” — the brain’s automatic, non-conscious, unchanging core formed over millennia. This non-conscious system is innate and automatically performs tasks like sensing risk or catching a ball whether we want it to or not. Crimmins contrasts this with our reflective system that is only occasionally engaged to laboriously learn new tasks like riding a bike or playing the piano.
Got a :15 pre-roll to get a Millennial to love your brand of frozen pizza? Appeal to her senses. Your brand’s personality, its body language, how it looks and acts is far more important to the persuasiveness of your message than your “unique selling proposition.” This was Steve Job’s and TBWA’s genius. They made Apple appeal to our lizard inside, which responded powerfully to images of Einstein, Dylan, King and Ali and the invitation to be true to ourselves versus the rational argument other computer makers made for functionality and processing speed.
I’ll leave it to the political data scientists to break down how Millennials voted versus Baby Boomers. But this morning’s surprising outcome certainly underscores that the emotional trumps the rational every time. The lizard stirs.