How Not to Market to Millennials




Sometimes when you read articles from marketing publications about Millennials (people born between 1980 and 2000 give or take a few years), you would think the writers were talking about space aliens. Marketers seem endlessly baffled by Millennials. Depending on who you’re talking to, Millennials hate to buy stuff, love buying stuff (but not cars), hate being marketed to, love themselves, etc., etc. Half the time you read these articles you expect the writer to end it with the phrase “get off my lawn!”


So, what’s a marketer to do with this massive demographic that seems to defy logic in their purchasing proclivities? Here are some things brands have tried that just… didn’t work.


The Honda Element

The Honda Element was a vehicle designed with Millennials in mind. It was customizable and featured design elements (no pun intended) based on other products popular with twenty-somethings. It sold well- to Baby Boomers. So what happened? Well, the economy had tanked and Millennials just didn’t have money to spend on big ticket items like cars- though their parents did. Plus, there has been a general cultural shift away from the car-obsessed world of the fifties and sixties.



McDonalds is one brand that has failed to appeal to Millennials again, and again. Facing stiff competition from “fast casual” brands like Chipotle, and increasing concerns over the quality of their products, and their treatment of their workforce, McDonald’s decided to take to Twitter to ask people to share their best memories of McDonald’s. Instead, they got a barrage of complaints, and recollections of horrifying experiences at McD’s restaurants. McDonald’s thought that by using a platform Millennials liked (Twitter) they could talk to Millennials where they “lived.” They failed to understand how their product is now perceived and how easy a platform like Twitter makes it to let the world know how much you dislike a brand.


Forcing Millennials to Buy Print When They Just Want Digital

While our first two examples were brand specific, this one happened to a whole industry. Millennials are heavy users of smartphones and tablets. They are not heavy users of newspapers and magazines. When digital subscriptions to many traditional publications became available, a huge number of these publications allowed users to subscribe digitally… only if they also subscribed to the print version of their magazine or newspaper as well. Many potential Millennial subscribers opted against purchasing these publications at all to avoid the clutter that comes with a print subscription. Nowadays, you have to let potential subscribers choose whether they want digital, print, or both. Don’t make them take all or nothing, or they might just take nothing.


Overall, it is incredibly important to remember this about Millennials: they are people, just like you and your generation are people. The harsh things said about Millennials (and their buying habits) have been said about every single generation of young people since time began. Talk to and treat Millennials as a demographic the way you would want to be talked to or treated. Do not assume that negative stereotypes about this generation are true, or you may end up losing out on a whole generation of customers.