Millennials aren’t really immune to advertising

…Written in a hipster coffee shop on my MacBook Air with my headphones on…

Many buzzy myths circulate about millennials, and probably the biggest one is that we are immune to advertising.

In some ways, yes, we are. We don’t click banner ads. We don’t listen to TV commercials. We let Pandora promos sail over our heads. We guard our inboxes with spam filters and seeing an ad on Facebook for a website we recently visited freaks us out.

But just because we tune out a lot of information, doesn’t mean we’re impervious to advertising.

Like everyone, millennials mute most incoming content as a matter of self-preservation. With so many voices clamoring for our attention, we must hit ignore or we will go crazy.

But we’re still human beings. We want to be liked, respected and feel worthy of love. We purchase things, some more consciously than others, that reflect our values and display our affiliations in hopes they’ll attract the type of love we want.

Thus, millennials are just as susceptible to messages that speak to our deepest desires to be prettier, smarter, richer, happier, thinner, and so on.

Millennials like to think they’re ad-proof (everybody does) and while they’re probably quicker than others to smell a sales pitch coming, the truth is:

We’re all susceptible to something.

And now, confession time…

Take me, for example. I’m a millennial and a copywriter, so I pride myself on my finely tuned BS-radar. I know the tricks because it’s my job to know them.

But then…then…Glacéau Smartwater and Jennifer Aniston came along and I crumbled like a three-day-old cookie. I was pure cookie dust.

Here’s what happened:

I was passively flipping through a magazine when I stumbled upon a glossy image of Ms. Aniston, looking completely flawless and oozing understated elegance, and holding a sleek bottle of Smartwater.

are millennials immune to advertising
Credit: Glacéau Smartwater

I didn’t want to like it. It was a shameless ad, after all. (And the Photoshopping, goodness gracious.)

I tried to turn the page, move on.

But I was hooked.

Why? Because understated elegance is important to me. Beauty is best au natural, in my opinion, and I waste spend a lot time shopping for clothes, jewelry and beauty products that are beautiful but not flashy. (My favorite thing in the world is a chic white t-shirt.) Jennifer Aniston’s Smart Water ad perfectly encapsulated my style goals (values, if you want to be market-y about it), and so I fell, hook, line, and sinker.

I didn’t run out that second and buy Smartwater, mind you, but the next time I was at a convenience store deciding between a zillion brands of water, I opted for the sleek, Jen Aniston-approved bottle.

Yes, I paid $3 for water, when the same damn thing was right next to it for $0.99. JENNIFER ANISTON MADE ME DO IT, OK?

(And it had nothing to do with smooth taste, electrolytes, blah blah blah. Nope, it was about my desire to look sophisticated like my BFF Jenny).

I still do it, too. Not always, thankfully. Sometimes sense kicks in. But facts are facts. I, a millennial, succumbed to advertising.

For water, no less. Water.

It wasn’t my finest moment, but c’est la vie.

BUT. I’m not the only millennial that’s been swayed by advertising. Just look around. There are Gen Yers everywhere sporting logos, carrying designer bags, and following brands on social media (and even pimping out their own accounts to promote products).

So when people say millennials are immune to advertising, I simply don’t buy it.

If millennials were truly immune to advertising, they wouldn’t be human.

Now, at this point, you’re probably wondering, “Ok, so how should I sell to millennials?”

I’ll tell you, but strap in, because it’s a bumpy ride.

If you’re a business owner looking for answers, chances are the first-half of this post gave you hope.

But, alas, what goes up must come down.

Marketing to millennials is HARD.

They’re difficult to reach and they have short attention spans, and they’re likely to jump ship the second they smell a sales pitch.

But note: this is no reason to beat them over the head with banner ads, direct mail and newsletters that scream “look at what we’re selling you!” No, folks, louder is NOT better.

That was the old way. The new way is this:

Keep it classy and get them to come to you. Play the long game.

Be ready with answers.

Millennials want to be educated. They’ll come bearing questions, so have good answers.


Good answers depend on your ability to take the time to understand who they are and what they want.

Have a solid digital presence.

Optimize your website so that they can find you when they need what you offer. If your super duper liquidation mattress sale mailer just so happens to arrive when he or she is in the market for a mattress, he or she might bite. (Unless they’re like me, in which case they’ll use your postcard to remove bugs from the house. You know, you slide the paper under a cup…whatever.) But don’t bank on your direct mail. Bank on them finding you on the web.

Be technology saavy.

Millennials expect the latest technology in nearly every facet of life. If you’re a brick and mortar business, make sure your facility is up-to-date and clean.

Look good.

Here’s a bit of high-level sociology for you: design isn’t just about looking professional or making a logo. Design is a reflection of the cultural zeitgeist, and if your design reflects a cultural value in a meaningful way, you’ll attract more people.

Nurture relationships.

Aim to build trust and present yourself as a resource. Don’t start off with a hard sell. Start off by educating or entertaining people. Unless they already knew they were going to buy your product, a hard sell will get you nowhere.

Be relevant.

Just because you think your product is the bee’s knees (and it might be) doesn’t mean millennials will too. Position it in a way that matters to them.

Be creative.

Millennials don’t care that four out of five dentists recommend your toothpaste. Not because a dentist’s endorsement isn’t valuable (it is), but because it sounds cliché and lazy.

Be personal.

Again with the dentist recommendation. Millennials will not only be unimpressed, but they may also wonder, “Who are these four dentists? Is one of them my dentist? Are any of them cool? What are they into? Would I want to hang out with them? Are they on Snapchat?”

Just kidding about the Snapchat…

Have a strong brand.

Millennials, more so than other generations, want their purchases to align with their values. So be brave and take a stand for something. Know who you are and have a real reason for doing what you do (tip: it’s not to make money). I talk more about this here.

Alas, marketing to millennials isn’t always fun. You’ve got to give a lot before you get anything back. But, if you do it right (focus on educating and building trust), once a millennial does become a customer, he or she is more likely to become a deeply loyal, lasting customer.

Like I said, it’s about playing the long game. Love it or hate it, that’s the way it is.



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