Sunday, July 20, 2008

Millennial Cynicism

I received this comment to a post a few days ago from Alec Quig, a student in the United States:

This reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about for the past two weeks: millennial cynicism. The second a huge brand logo gets slapped on something in a commercial, the ad has immediately lost my 22 year old interest (and trust). If a commercial is cheesy, or at all in bad taste (aesthetically, or if it’s corny or generally/plainly stupid), it does more harm than good to the brand in my mind--the very opposite effect than what was originally intended. This, unfortunately, is what most ads (in the US, at least) are like.

Many people in “my demographic” flock to brands like American Apparel because they don't put a little tiger or alligator on their shirts. Though my age group is the increasingly-profitable millennial, my feeling is that personally I represent a segment of the market that’s not worth the trouble: I’m thrifty, buy used, am vigilant about scouring the net for deals, am irritated or disgusted by advertising 95% of the time. It seems that by contrast marketers target the consumers; people who buy and buy often.

Most commercials, of course, are tedious interruptions. I—the millennial--want commercials to be entertaining, enlightening, sublime, like a good mini-music video. The more unobtrusive the actual brand is, the better. In my imagination, the most ideal way for the brand itself to appear is briefly, at the end of the commercial, with a small white logo in the bottom right of the screen—obvious enough so that you just notice it. It's like that old rule in writing: show, don't tell.

I would guess, though, that this approach doesn’t sell. Perhaps it’s a little different in NZ; I’m very much aware of how much more “enlightened” much European advertising is, for example, compared to American.

My question, from all of this, is: is there much effort required to get into the headspace of your buyer and their market? Do you have to disassociate yourself from what you personally value in advertising and culture and think totally outside yourself? I find it difficult, if not impossible, to think like your average mall-going American. Do you, as well? Might this gap have anything to do with this “getting it wrong?”


The irony of Alec's question is that I was thinking something similar just this afternoon. How do I reconcile my personal belief that we should consume less stuff with the promotion of the very stuff itself?

My response is simple. My role is to make a value judgement about products (other than those I consider immoral or unconscionable - I have always refused to have anything to do with tobacco products). If the advertising I am involved in creating is: simple, useful and relevant then I will have done my job in good conscience. Let the consumer decide what is right for her.

Of course marketers who are foolish enough to promote products that are contrary to significant consumer trends are wasting their resources and will, likely enough, fail no matter what kind of advertisng they commission. There an old advertising chestnut that says: nothing kills a bad product quicker than a good ad.


  1. Anonymous7:49 pm

    The fact this commenter has a preference of ads shows his preprogrammed responses to media.

    Ad makers (like myself) who are interesting and capable tend to generate things that stick in the mind. They most certainly do not have to be interesting, insightful, or clever.

    The whole idea is brand recognition and idea-memory.

    If you convey the right set of constructs to the viewer, there is no reason you have to achieve anything else with them.

    Most people can name you the slogans from Taco Bell, McDonald's, Burger King, Ford, etc. for the last 20 years without much effort. Were any of their ads clever, insightful, "millennial" (what a stupid word), etc?

    Absolutely not.

    The only people that think this sort of stuff are self-important and have never truly touched a proper ad.

    Get some maturity and look for some people that have actually swayed opinions. Most of it is subconscious. I mean, what, do you think some trendy Apple advertisement is the epitome of message-conveyance for companies?

    Get over yourself.

  2. Thanks for your comment (whoever you are - I don't usually endorse anonymous remarks).

    I'm not exactly certain of what your point is.

    And, as it happens, I think 'trendy' Apple ads work very well - in fact better than 'subconcious' messaging (which could cover a whole range of sins). I believe people want simple, useful/relevant messages rather than innuendo or suggestion.


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