Is there a buzzword so deliciously buzztastic as “millennial”? Ad Age used the term in 17 articles in June alone and AdWeek a staggering 47 times! You’d be hard pressed to find an ad agency pitch that didn’t have millennial engagement as a cornerstone to the campaign. Even AARP is sponsoring millennial-focused panels. Everyone wants in on it.
I am just as guilty of using the “M” word. Not because I want to, I just feel obligated to. It legitimizes the conversation and becomes a linguistic bat-signal to other marketing and communications professionals: He said millennial, that means he is going to talk about something new and progressive, let’s go read it.
So What Exactly is a Millennial?
From Wikipedia: “There are no precise dates for when the generation starts and ends; most researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to around 2000.”
And herein lies the problem. The notion that a child of the early 80s and a child of the year 2000 are anything alike is bonkers.
I am a child of the 80s. I was the first kid in my class to turn in a computer-printed report because my father, a government employee, was one of the first to have a computer in our suburban Tucson neighborhood. The old computers in the school library ran on command-line prompts and beepers were the popular mobile tech. When I went online at home I tied up our phone line, so internet was rationed like potatoes in a famine.
When September 11th unfolded, I was at high school and watched it on a tube television. I had to call my mother on a landline to ask her if she saw what was going on.
I got a Motorola Razr the next year and it wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I got my first smartphone: the Google G1.
A child born in the year 2000 doesn’t remember pre-9/11 USA. They don’t understand having a social life without broadcasting it online. They don’t know what it’s like not being able to get in touch with someone anywhere, anytime or not having instant information at your fingertips. We are nothing alike.
Are We Drawing Artificial Lines in the Sand?
The idea of a monolithic generational divide between millennials and all preceding generations seems equally bonkers.
My father is 30 years older than me yet has a similar relationship to technology. I chose tech as a career path only because he stoked the flames of a passion that he initially sparked. We both see technology as augmenting our human experience and fully embrace it. And we both stand in awe of how our reality is starting to exceed the science fiction we imagined as children.
What about political views, often cited when discussing differences with millennials? Yes, I am more liberal than my father. But he is more liberal than his father was. And give me a break, the baby boomers were leading a progressive revolution while doing drugs and screwing like rabbits. This dynamic is cyclical through every generation. It’s all happened before and will happen again.
Millennial Myth: Busted
When we have a conversation about millennials we are really talking about staying relevant in a world shaped by technology. The way we consume content, communicate with one another, make purchasing decisions–they’re all fundamentally changing.
The myth lies in the notion that this change has anything to do with generational boundaries. It only sometimes appears that way because young people don’t have as much to adapt to. For them it’s not change, it’s just reality. But it ultimately becomes everyone’s reality, even if we’re just arriving there at different speeds.
Compare my father’s worldview and mine: They’re far more similar than the perspective of someone just 10 years younger. And that person’s view is more similar to mine than the view of someone who’s even younger. There is no generational divide, only exponentially different comfort levels with these new paradigms.
Stop Using the “M” Word
When I went to college 10 years ago, my professors told me that demographics were now all but irrelevant. “It’s all about behavior and lifestyle attributes,” they said. And as technology became more sophisticated, conversations around consumer behaviors were supposed to become far more nuanced.
Yet here we are a decade later, acting like some incredible game-changing thing is occurring to people under the age of 33. We’re regressing.
It’s time to put the “M” word to rest and instead talk about an adoption continuum. People will range anywhere from enthusiastic to skeptical when they encounter new ways of thinking, regardless of age or any other surface-level demographic. Navigating this constant evolution always has and always will be a challenge: How do you embrace the new while not abandoning established thinking too quickly? No superficial generational segmentation is going to ease this challenge nor prevent the inevitability of change.
“M” word? Rest in peace.