Millennials Versus Brands

I am a millennial and I don’t like brands. What’s more, I’m not the only one. A minuscule 6.5% of millennials say they are loyal to brands. Unlike our parents and grandparents, we just don’t trust or relate to them all that much. But why?

Firstly, let’s take a moment to look at who millennials are. Born between the early 1980s and early 2000s, we’re the children of ‘baby boomers’ (1940s – 1960s) and ‘Generation X’ (1960s – 1980s). Having grown up after the millennium, there are a host of socio-economic factors which affect our worldview and, more specifically, our attitude toward brands. Here’s why we struggle to connect with many of them.

Being price-sensitive

Global economics haven’t necessarily worked in our generation’s favour, with events like the 2008 financial crisis resulting in more unemployment and less disposable income. Hence millennials are very price sensitive with 30% identifying as ‘bargain shoppers’. This means that more often than not we simply go for the cheapest option, rather than a branded one (for example, buying supermarkets’ own-label products rather than branded alternatives).

Too many options

Even more so than previous generations, millennials are spoiled for choice. There’s a multitude of products and services to choose from and we’re not afraid to experiment and trial different options. We don’t feel the need to stick to particular brands. But all this choice means it’s harder to make decisions, so 72% of millennials research options before buying and spend a lot of time doing so. In most millennials’ minds, all brands are equal until proven otherwise.

Lack of time

Comparison shopping is just one thing eating away at millennials’ time and there are plenty of others – exercise classes, travelling, eating out, countless Netflix series and films on demand, podcasts, and the list goes on. We do a lot of things and we like to do many of them at the same time. But not only are we time-poor, we’re also distracted – 95% are doing other things while shopping. So it’s unsurprising we’re not loyal to brands as they have to work even harder to win our attention in the first place.

Seeking meaning

Perhaps the most interesting reason to explain millennials’ lack of brand loyalty is the fact that brands aren’t quite delivering what we’ve come to expect from them. Millennials are a disenchanted and sceptical generation that cares about social and political issues. For example, 68% of millennials say that creating a change in the world is a personal goal they actively pursue, compared with 42% of baby boomers. In addition, 65% buy on the basis of their beliefs and 57% are buying or boycotting brands based on the brand’s position on a social or political issue. So millennials are actually expecting brands to have a social and political stance, which is a pretty hefty demand.

This idealistic outlook is why we’ve seen a rise in purpose-driven brands such as Lush, Patagonia and TOMS during the last couple of decades. Many older brands are also trying to bring ‘purpose’ to the forefront of their marketing and advertising in order to tap into the millennial mindset of ‘let’s change the world’. Nike’s choice of Colin Kaepernick, the American Football player who protested racial injustice by taking a knee during the national anthem, for their new ad campaign shows that big brands are taking a stance on political and social issues. But the #justburnit backlash shows the inherent risks of this approach. It’s also hard to do well. Remember Pepsi’s poorly judged Kendal Jenner ad? Or more recently LUSH’s perplexing ‘spycops’ campaign?

Image of half a civilian and half a police man with the worlds PAID TO LIE in bold with #SPYCOPS underneath
Lush’s #SpyCops campaign

Although each generation poses unique challenges to brands, millennials, like all consumers, are simply looking for two things – utility and emotional connection. We expect products and services to fill a functional need – feeding, clothing, transporting us and so on. But because so many products and services exist that do the same jobs, brands have to appeal to consumers’ emotions in order to win them over. This in turn can give consumers a comfort blanket and strengthen their emotional connection with a brand. To quote Don Draper (the fictional Creative Director in the TV series Mad Men):

Advertising is […] a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.”

What’s happened in recent years is that consumers’ emotional needs have evolved. Modernity and technology fulfil so many of our basic needs, giving us the capacity to turn our attention to other things. We’ve become more conscious and started to realise the true cost of our consumption habit on workers in poor countries, animals and the environment. We are expecting brands to do the same. Loyalty will follow when brands start to address our newly formed emotional needs, not through inauthentic campaigns, but when they truly become purpose driven.

Iglika Lax Six

Iglika Lax

September 10, 2018

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