Saturday, June 4, 2016

Selling Millennials Through Myths & Lies (Part 2 of 3)

Desperate to find the secret of the millennial code, media and researchers have taken creative license over the past fifteen years which in the final analysis, hasn't provided the hoped for guideposts that would convert marketing strategy into new consumers - at least as it relates to the wine business. But it has created a dialogue overblowing the impact of our youngest cohort (eg, above video.)

Outside of the odd research gaffe, I see the failure to deliver reliable findings emanating from two directions: 
1) over-generalizing an ethnically diverse generation, and, 
2) delivering predictive interpretations on the group as if they would never evolve. 

The 6th graders of 15 years ago are 26 today. Maybe they wore footed Barney pajamas back then, but their tastes and preferences have changed.

Evolution and Idealism

Woodstock - NY
Boomers went through an evolution too. Stealing a thread from one of the comments in Part 1 of this post, boomers lived through the Summer of Love and saw the world through idealistism tinted glasses. 

All you need is love, anti-establishment and anti-materialism movements evolved into a cohort with the highest divorce rate in history; a group that wholly 'sold out' becoming the Establishment, and then the greatest consuming generation of stuff - to the point where 70% of the U.S. GDP depended on boomer materialism. If Madison Avenue actually locked down boomers beliefs when they were young, The S&P 500 might have only been the S&P 164.

All that said, I hear one common refrain: While boomers might have changed to become the biggest per capita consumers of wine in U.S. history, that doesn't mean millennials are going to follow suit. 

That might be true, but I see growing evidence that makes me believe this young consuming group aren't the three-eyed Unicorn's put forth in media and they will follow the same evolutionary path as the consumers before them.

Expert Testimony

NY Times piece week before last had an interesting conclusion from a company that gets data and employs tens of thousands of millennials. Google's head of HR crunched a ton of numbers and came to this conclusion about his millennial employees:
“What we’ve seen is that every single generation enters the work force and feels like they’re a unique generation, and the generation that’s one or two ahead of them looks back and says, ‘Who are these weird, strange kids coming into the work force with their attitudes of entitlement and not wanting to fit in?’” Mr. Bock said. “It’s a cycle that’s been repeated every 10 to 15 years for the last 50 years.”
Google’s human resources department is famous for collecting and analyzing data about its work force to empirically back up its management techniques. Google’s workers range from recent college grads to people in their 80s. And as far as Mr. Bock has been able to tell, millennials, as a broad category, simply aren’t very different from everyone else."
Pretty Much the Same Wants, Desires & Dreams

Bottlerock - Napa
For the media, for marketing research companies, and for Madison Avenue, that last comment has to twist their stomach up in knots because if it's totally true, that would imply the same successful strategies you use to market to boomers can be used to market to our youngest drinking brethren and sisteren.

While I think desires and dreams might be closely aligned, there is a difference between values or wants, and an individual's financial capacity to purchase luxury wine.

There Are Differences

The multicultural millennial might have been over homogenized in the marketing press as we noted in Part 1 of the post, but there is one shared common experience that is resident with a large portion of the cohort; the Great Recession. That has left an indelible mark that will haunt our young Americans throughout their lives. They don't have the same opportunity before them that the boomers had, and they know it.

So to the Google point above, those observations from their Head of HR are injected with the bias that all the millennials surveyed are employed in a hot company with upside. That will change the responses.

For the majority, while underlying desires and wants might be the same the young consumer's recession impacted experiences will continue to ripple through their purchase preference and development through their entire buying lifecycles.

  • They are likely to continue to be more financially conservative than their spend-a-holic credit driven parents, saving more and spending less of their paycheck. 
  • Not surprisingly, they don't trust that markets will always go up so they think a little different about major purchases and investments.
  • Student debt will continue to be a drag on their spending and impact their big ticket purchases like cars and houses. Today the small house phenomenon and Uber for that matter (the sharing economy) are evidences of their rent versus buy preferences. Affordable luxury is a draw.
  • Ostentatious gilded luxury goods fell out of favor when the economy tanked. There is still a desire to display luxury, but it has to be done within architecture that seems more industrial than luxury.
  • Perhaps not isolated just to the younger generation, but nonetheless countless studies are being written about their preferences for experiences - and cost does play a big role in that. Important to grasp is while they don't mind ownership, they have broken out in their minds the experience something provides, versus the need to own it.

What is interesting to me is the recession impacted young generation is really closer to the depression era older Americans in some of their beliefs: Both are savers and not big users of credit. Both are more green, recycle and reuse - though possibly for different reasons, and both shun overt displays of wealth, favoring less conspicuous consumption. 

That doesn't seem descriptive of the negative stereotype the generation has been given. Maybe the young people who have been beaten up in the press for being narcissistic and lazy should be cut some slack, and the boomers get a little more grief thrown their way again for their wasteful, selfish and materialistic bent.

The largest difference as I see things is in the manner in which the young communicate. The original identifying characteristic of the generation is their digital nativity but boomers and Gen X also adapted to the digital world too. Still - there is a difference and you will find many articles about the young consumers agility between platforms and their pithiness in communication. 

Given all that discussion, once the young consumers hit that critical 35-55 year old period of dominant consumer spending, while you might not have to change your brand to attract young consumers of wealth, you are going to have to figure out how to efficiently and effectively get that message into their hands. 

(Final Part 3 of 3 next time)


What do you think?
  1. Will millennials become boomers when they grow into their spending years?
  2. What other ways has the great recession impacted the young consumer?
  3. How will you market your wine to this soon to be important wine buying cohort?
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  1. This is a topic I've spent so much time studying that I don't know where to begin. Most of my experience is in beer and liquor, but I'm confident it applies to wine as well. The "archetypal" Millennial is profoundly different from the archetypal Gen Xer. I always say that if you take away only one observation about these two generations, let it be this: Gen Xers grew up on Bart Simpson. Millennials grew up on Harry Potter. Could two child characters be more different? And if you don't think this matters to marketing, I can think of no better example than Captain Morgan rum. The brand thrived in the 90s, basically by positioning itself as the Bart Simpson of liquor - a rule-bending joker, avoiding responsibility. When sales tanked in the 00s, they reinvented the brand as the Harry Potter of liquor - a heroic adventurer, embracing responsibility. The brand has been thriving ever since. The before and after ads:

    1. Thanks for the comments Mike. I'm interested in your perspective and while I get the difference between Bart and Harry, I don't grasp how a movie evolves or unites a range of consumers..... outside of making better board game partners when they select Bart for $100.

      I'm quite certain it's me just not grasping your point and I would like to understand... Maybe it's no coffee.

    2. Well, this will be both oversimplified and abstract at the same time, but both are necessities because this is summarizing an awful lot. So I apologize. The movies, tv shows, and marketing that are most successful in a given era tend to make use of the same archetypal characters, because people live vicariously through the archetypes that live the life they yearn for -- and the most dominant yearnings change over time. Young Gen Xers were raised to keep their ambitions reasonable and be satisfied with a relatively steady paycheck, and so they yearned for a more carefree, fun life - much like Bart Simpson the "proud underachiever." Young Millennials were raised to feel empowered, and so they aspired to not just a paycheck, but to leave a mark on the world -- much like the heroic, powerful Harry Potter. If Harry Potter had been released in the early 90s the franchise would have been nowhere near as successful as it's been. Part of the reason craft beer, spirits, and wine have all been growing in the Millennial era is that many of the individual brands in these categories make use of variations on a heroic archetype, rather than the frat guy archetype that had been so powerful for mainstream beer in the Gen X era -- but is now dragging those brands down. (This is probably less true of wine, but that's one way to answer your question of how to sell more wine to Millennials.) The Most Interesting Man in the World was so successful in part because it was the only non-craft beer brand making use of a heroic archetype. But brands don't need tv ad campaigns to tap into archetypes - just very consistent marketing, presentation, and promotion.

  2. Mike:
    Your theories are spot-on. But the wine industry fails to understand that to stay "cool" they must be social relevant thus culturally relevant. And society is evolving everyday thus their brand conversation must also evolve or die. There is a lot of road-killed out here. They have 2 conversations out here, luxury or green, thus a Sea of Sameness in the marketplace.
    I love Dos line "stay thirsty my friend". Can not wait to see who replaces him.
    I can be reached at
    Ed Donegan


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