I work at an agency of young adults, so thinking about how to appeal to Generations X, Y, and Z comes pretty naturally.
We don’t have to wonder why this target demographic isn’t buying stuff or attending things or going to websites. We know, because that’s who we are.
The rest of the world seems to struggle with how to reach us. They’re wrapped up in stereotypes of what young people are, and they’re failing as marketers because of it.
If you’ve watched the news in the past six months, you’ve probably heard about our nation’s attempt to get people enrolled in health insurance and the importance of garnering the “young invincible
” market. (Hint: Don’t talk about us as though we can’t hear you.)
You might have also heard about the terrible advertising campaigns
launched by different states in this effort. Even if politics aren’t your thing, you’ve almost certainly seen big-brand commercials (cough, cough Quizno’s
) that reduce every person under 40 to a caricature of American youth.
It’s downright embarrassing, and it’s making a lot of us young folks angry.
So I’m going to set the record straight about young adults. Here are three things the world seems to think about young adults, why they’re totally wrong, and how a new perspective can help anyone market to us.
MYTH: We can’t communicate, and when we do, we speak in abbreviations.
A few years ago, a bunch of blue-hairs decided that kids were losing the ability to communicate because they were spending a lot of time on the Internet and sending text messages.
Sure, we’re capable of communicating briefly and succinctly, but we also blog and post, and we are exposed to more reading material than any generation before us. We can write—and not just in imaginary text lingo. We don’t know how your parents operate, but ours say “thx,” “lol” and “b4” way more than we do.
Don’t use text-speak to try to appeal to us. We’re better than that, and we know how to use a smartphone keyboard. We could text the works of Tolstoy if we had to.
MYTH: We’re lazy and entitled.
Look, the youngest among us are part of the generation spawned from helicopter parents. We entered college with a semester’s worth of credits. We volunteered every week since eighth grade. We read newspapers and care about real issues.
Entitled? Psshh. We just don’t want to waste time doing things that don’t matter. Perhaps the problem isn’t with us, but with a society that can’t provide a living wage for someone who’s worked this hard. But we digress…
Don’t pander to us by acting like we’re all a bunch of Justin Bieber-wannabes. Instead, appeal to our sense of creativity and aspiration. Empower us and inspire us; don’t mock us. Apple, you’re doing everything right.
MYTH: If you’re going to reach us, you have to be subversive.
It’s true that we probably won’t pay attention to things that look dated or unprofessional. We’ve grown up surrounded by advertising, so there’s a little bit of marketer inside of all of us.
We’re also not dumb. Slick graphics are pretty, but if your product sucks, it doesn’t really matter; we know how to read reviews. If you want to tell us something, just tell us.
You don’t have to try to make something cool in order to get us to want that something or do that something. Actually, that probably won’t work.
That thing has to be cool (not hip-cool, but good-cool). Tell us why it matters—for real. We can take it. And please don’t sell us crap.
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Just because people are young doesn’t mean they don’t have brains.
Still not sure what a young adult is? Try talking to one. Hold focus groups. Hire someone with less than 10 years of experience. Do your homework. We’re hard to reach only because we see through your strategy.
Aimee Woodall founder and leader of the flock at The Black Sheep Agency, a Houston-based creative agency specializing in non-traditional public relations, social media, and experiential marketing. Check out their blog, where a version of this story originally appeared.