Millennials. Baby Boomers. Can Brands Reach Both?


Yesterday, I heard some folks having a conversation about how hard it is for brands and employers to engage millennials as consumers and employees. The litany of popular complaints was on full display.

“They’re so spoiled, and they don’t even know it. Their parents showered them with everything and they think it will always be that way.”

“No attention span, because someone else has always run the agenda for them.”

“Superficial, just bouncing from one fad to the next.”

“No work ethic. No drive. They want work to be enjoyable – what a fantasy!”

“Hopeless consumers. Can’t make an individual decision, especially on big-ticket items. They just go online and do what everyone else is doing.”

I was about to interject a few opposing views when I noticed that the people doing the complaining were all Baby Boomers. And I knew it would be useless.

They’re so spoiled, and they don’t even know it. They got the world handed to them. They’re the last generation in this country that will be better off than their parents. And they think they accomplished that themselves – what a fantasy!

No attention span, because their attention is always on themselves: what they feel, what they want, what they need.

Superficial, because they’re addicted to looking young, sounding young, and acting young. They can’t stay young forever, but they can stay immature.

They think work is everything, even if it makes them miserable. No wonder they suck at convincing us to love corporations and buy their stuff. No wonder the rest of us have to crowd-source our job leads and shopping advice.

Hopeless consumers, because they can’t live within their means. Can’t discriminate, just have to have it all. Even if it winds up gathering dust in their three-car garage.

And to top it off, they’re hanging on to their jobs way, way longer than any generation before them, so they’re choking off promotions for Millennials and jobs for the generation behind them!


Okay, you get the point. Depending on your point of view, grey can look black or white. So let’s pose a question. Does this tale of two generations have a moral for branding?

The lesson for me is that we’re all in constant danger of seeing stereotypes, missing our own blind spots, and falling into habits of thought. It may give some people a feeling of superiority to write off Millennials as the most spoiled generation – but that’s a sure way to lose out in the branding wars because most Millennial’s would completely reject the characterization.

We have to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, and look for universal needs and desires. With aging Boomers living so long and controlling so much wealth, we can’t write them off. Younger generations are the future of the world, so we can’t diss them either.

We have to escape categories if we can, focus on how actual human beings feel and think, and reach them where their own sense of self is most alive. And that starts with knocking down our own assumptions and unconscious judgments

If nothing else, this gets us more in touch with our own sense of self — and authenticity is a powerful force for emotive brands.

Emotive Brand is a San Francisco based branding firm.

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