It’s Time to Stop Treating Millennials Like Aliens

Not a week goes by without another mass media news story about how those wacky millennials are just so different and weird. Tapping away on their smartphones, acting entitled and now apparently not having sex.

This kind of coverage is not uncommon when it comes to the younger generation. Rather than being viewed as simply younger members of society, “Generation Y” are treated as if they were an intriguing species of alien in some kind of science experiment.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the most recent “revelation” about the generation marketers are falling over themselves to understand: millennials are having less sex.

Dangerous Preconceptions

This latest study was conducted by Professor Ryne Sherman of Florida Atlantic University, using data taken from America’s General Social Survey. According to the report, 15% of millennials have had no sexual partners since turning 18, compared to 6% of people who were born in the 1960s.

This is certainly an interesting trend that raises some important and useful questions, but the way it’s being reported is doing more harm than good to the perceptions of young people in their 20s.

Because these major outlets are viewing millennials as one demographic blob, these statistics lead to attention-grabbing headlines such as “Why are millennials having less sex?”

However, we’ve written before about the dangers of generalising an incredibly individualistic generation. It’s this same tactic that leads employers to lament that “all Millennials are entitled and lazy”, or marketing companies to think that they need to start loading their posts with emojis and leaving the “g” off of the end of words.

How Should You Respond?

If companies start adopting an unnatural tone to appease some theoretical bizarre generation of asexual digital natives, the audience they’re trying to reach will just feel patronised. Remember that “bae intern” e-mail?

The attitude that each study indicates it’s time to change your approach to an entire generation is a harmful one, and may see brands adopting multiple tones at once for the same audience; one minute rebellious and sexy, the next conservative and safe.

Anybody trying to appeal to this study’s version of “millennials” will find themselves struggling with, on the one hand, a culture of casual sex and hookups, and on the other one of celibacy and practicality. How do you advertise to an imaginary consumer that apparently uses Tinder but also waits until marriage?

Instead, marketers should pick a more specific audience and stick to it. At NUBI, we target a specific demographic called the New Urban based on shared values and interests.

By approaching the problem from a different angle (building an audience based on their qualities, rather than trying to find out what qualities our audience have after the fact), we avoid diluting our message or appearing disingenuous by seeming to turn on a dime.