Millennial Marketing: It’s all about me… three examples.
For those who are wondering how to crack the code on “millennial marketing” – this week you got a lot of data. To sum it all up, my friend whom I profiled in this past post about millennial marketing, again msgs me and says to me “you realize that this coke thing, and the ALS campaign, are the same – it’s all about me.” If true – this is a big deal – it should change considerably how you think about media, marketing, communications, and brand building.
I was somewhat stunned by the statement – but upon reflection – it’s quite true. We are a culture that now evaluates messages first through our own interpretive lens, and then perhaps through another framework.
This is pretty important, actually, because it signifies a major shift in how we might go about understanding communications. Briefly, let me explain.
Before the Advent of the Internet – Civil Society Mattered More
As a former political scientist, I spent a fair amount of time studying how to study political groups. Seems silly right – studying how to study politics. The exercise is important, however, because you find that based upon the lens of your analysis, you can explain various aspects of behavior. It is somewhat like a lens in a camera – you can either see things great at a distance, or great up close, but you can’t usually see both at the same time (the depth of field problem in photography). Similarly, in understanding political trends, there is usually one level of understanding that is better at explaining what’s going on then competing theories. Generally, political scientists use one of three levels to explain political behavior – they either look at a system level (the highest least granular structured level), they look at institutions (more granularity, less generality), or they look at individuals (hyper granularity, almost impossible to see connections or trends, or make predictions).
Prior to the internet, I would argue that the system and institutional factors were dominant. We all watched the same shows, and talked about it the next day. Churches held more sway over society. Government held more sway over society culturally. There was greater cultural homogeneity. Civil society and structures conditioned us. Choosy moms chose JIF because otherwise you were a harlot. Don’t squeeze the Charmin! Only You can prevent Forest Fires. The list goes on and on. Mass medium held sway because mass medium spoke through the institutions and the structure of communication. The individual mattered less, because, the individual did not really have much of a voice. There was very little in the way of what someone could do to make their voice heard.
Now, everyone walks around with a radio station and a television studio in their pocket. They have the ability to broadcast directly to millions. What’s the result? Charlie bit my finger. Dump icewater over your head. Kim Kardashian complaing about how her butt is too big. Coca Cola with your name on it instead of theirs, everyone talking, broadcasting, tweeting, in a jumbled sense of nonsense.
The system is totally broken because essentially it’s overloaded. Mass communication was never designed for mass communicators – only mass listeners. Which is why now the only lens that works is the individual.
Enter the Individual Analysis
The individual frame of analysis looks at events and structures through the individual’s perspective. This type of analysis focuses on the motivations, dreams, goals, pressures, triggers, etc., of individual people, to explain social behavior. From a mass media perspective, it would be nearly impossible to explain why the ALS Icebucket Challenge is popular. Similarly, it would be hard to argue why the Coca-Cola campaign is so popular (but possibly not profitable). Understanding the likes of how Kim Kardashian gets to be a celebrity, let alone this fascination and fixation on her posterior, would be equally impossible to understand.
As CMOs, as brand leaders, however, that’s how you’re attempting to analyze the situation. Using the instruments of reach, frequency, clicks, etc., you’re attempting to understand campaign success or failure through structures, systems, and institutions. It’s potentially entirely the wrong lens. The closer and closer you get to Generation Y – the millennial generation – I argue with definitive zeal – the structural explanations break down entirely.
Consider this – Kim Kardashian, ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Coca-Cola. They all seem disconnected – but they’re not. They’re all perfect examples of the same thing – popularity as a result of entirely focusing on the individual.
Millennial Marketing Study #1: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
Unless you’ve lived under a rock – surely you’ve seen people dumping buckets of ice water over their heads to raise awareness for ALS. The campaign has been remarkably effective – it’s raised 38 million dollars thus far.
Think about the campaign – what’s it really about?
I didn’t really come to the conclusion until I saw this status post: “How come no one will challenge me to the #icebucketchallenge – I guess I’m not popular.”
I thought – what? If this guy wanted to help ALS – he could just write a check. But that’s not what this campaign is about.
Instead it’s about this:
And not to pick on my friend Scott Monty, but clearly then there is the genre of the “anti-Ice Bucket” videos – where people talk about how they’re donating instead of ice-bucketing (Scott’s was by far the best done and the most genuine I think):
All of these videos, and more, are all about the individual. Yes, ALS benefits. Yes, ALS has raised a ton of money. But in the end, every one of these videos – the celebrity ones, the not-so-celebrity ones, are all about the people. I challenge so and so. I got challenged. See how cool I am, I was challenged. I’m so cool, I didn’t even do the ice bucket thing – I did something else. I’m so nuts, I had the icebucket fall on my head and almost kill me.
It’s voyeuristic. We even have now the Ice Bucket Challenge Fails:
And people who don’t even exist… take the challenge:
The interesting thing about this one – Kermit challenged Ricky Gervais – who replied “FFS, I’ve already done it.” (FFS – in internetspeak is “for f*cks sake”.)
It’s a little club. See I get to challenge Steven Spielberg, because I’m cool – I’m Oprah. And I challenged so and so…
For those of you old enough to remember, the king of the name droppers was probably Dick Cavett. This is basically the Dick Cavett of marketing – people can hardly fall over themselves fast enough to dump water over their heads to be part of the club of the cool kids who know people and who got challenged.
This isn’t a societal critique of it – but rather to point out – the entire event is invidiualistically oriented. The challenges are made by individuals. The filming, etc., it’s all voyeuristic. Essentially, this is a super bowl ad combined with Truman Capote’s “I like to watch.”
The entire campaign is set from the individual’s perspective. What they gain, how to spread it, how to disseminate the message.
Imagine if as an agency I pitched this to a client. Ok, here’s the deal, instead of buying media, doing a commercial, etc., what we’re going to do is demand that people dump ice water over their heads, and challenge their friends to do that too, and put it up on Facebook, and YouTube, and Twitter. Then, they’ll be shamed enough either to do the stunt, in which case we get free publicity, or to cut us a check.
I’m pretty sure they’d have laughed me out of the room. That’s not how agencies think. Maybe they SHOULD think that way – but that’s not how they generally think.
Eventually all this silliness will end. Like a virus – either everyone will wind up challenged – or there won’t be any sport in it anymore. However, ALS will probably raise 50M dollars.
Brilliant campaign from that perspective.
Millennial Marketing Study #2:
Kim Kardashian – the Rear End Challenge
So from ice buckets to posteriors, I saw this cover at the grocery store, and the headline was basically, “yes, my butt is big” and it was allegedly a quote of Kim Kardashian.
Apparently both this woman, and much of pop culture, is infatuated with her rear-end.
I’ll be honest, I’m completely at a loss to understand Kardashian. Yes, I get it – she’s attractive. But basically it’s this weird mix of Sophia Lauren, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and a porno. Kardashian comes to being popular because basically she made a porno video. From there, she parlays that into an empire.
Now you may have sour grapes about that – but again – the entire routine is because she understands (perhaps instinctively) of how you sell a brand in an age where everyone has a camera, everyone is a video star, everyone can make a message that gets transmitted to millions. It’s again through the individual lens.
This woman has 23 million followers on Twitter. Let’s presume half are fake accounts, or whackadoos, or whatever. Fine – 12 million REAL BONAFIDE PEOPLE living off this woman’s every utterance.
Most of it is about her butt.
ok no more tweeting and procrastinating! LOL Glad some of u moms can relate. I'm reading the comments! For real….of to the gym!
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) August 5, 2014
wish me luck on the dieting…its soooo hard for me!
— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) August 5, 2014
What? I mean seriously. It goes on and on – the silly stuff. But here she has a huge audience (and a huge rear end according to her), and the taglines she writes became headlines – Kim Upset about huge Butt.
It’s beyond silly.
But again, she seems to understand that her popularity and her cultural swag is entirely dependent upon the people who view her. That audience was built through the eyes of her audience, not the other way around. She’s hardly a good role model, or a bad one even. It’s just kind of bizarre – people are attracted to her. What’s she eating. What’s she doing.
Again, all through the voyeuristic lens. It’s about the individual.
Millennial Marketing Study #3: Coca-Cola – Forget teaching the world to Sing… my name is on the freaking bottle!
Imagine I’m the ad guy and I’m pitching Coke. The pitch goes something like this – yeah, we know you have your 200 year old brand or whatever, and you sue the pants off of anyone who tries to use it, derive from it, or do anything unlicensed with it. But hear me out for a second – I want you to take your name off – and put my name on the bottle.
I’m sure after they stopped laughing – I’d be fired.
Nevertheless, that’s what they did.
From Coke’s own website:
Kronauge said the campaign puts a modern, youthful twist on the brand’s 128-year legacy of bringing people together and making them feel special. “For teens and Millennials, personalization is not a fad, it’s a way of life,” she adds. “It’s about self-expression, individual storytelling and staying connected with friends. ‘Share a Coke’ taps into all of those passions.”
Initial response across social media has been strong, according to Jennifer Healan, group director, integrated marketing content and design, Coca-Cola North America.
“‘Share a Coke’ is designed to get people talking and sharing,” she said. “When teens see that the iconic Coca-Cola logo has been replaced by their name or their friends’ names, they can’t help but take a picture and post it online.”
Coke will amplify and curate the #ShareaCoke conversation via its social channels.
“We’ll not only be talking about the names on bottles, but also putting a great deal of focus on celebrating real moments of sharing and the stories behind them,” Healan adds. “We’ll highlight the best examples to encourage sharing among our fans and followers and inspire teens to recreate these sharing moments with their friends.”
If you go back to what I posted a few days ago about the campaign – it works not because of sharing, but because of being self-centered. It’s all about me. OH LOOK! It’s my name on the bottle!
Coke may wish to say it’s fueling these discussions, connections, etc., however the evidence doesn’t support that. What it fuels is narcissistic behavior and sharing. It’s basically Kardashian’s butt meets the ALS challenge. Everyone gets to be part of the in crowd by knowing they have their name on the bottle, and they get to be the celebrity for showing it in social media.
What’s it all mean Alfie?
I’m not suggesting we’re suddenly a self-absorbed culture. However, it is an interesting trend that “what’s popular” and what “resonates” all begins with the individual. I think that’s unique to this period of time, and I think it’s unique because of the technology available. Thus the meaning for the CMO trying to acquire customers is this – start thinking through the eyes of the customer.
You really can’t copy these techniques – that’s too ham handed. It won’t work. But all three of these case studies are all based, and all succeed, because the focus is not on the end state, but the individual. That’s somewhat of a scary proposition I think for most marketers. You’re asking the customer to carry the ball into the end zone. Makes people uneasy.
In a world, however, where everything is being generated so quickly – content flying around like a blender – pushed messages don’t appear to be so effective. This is why TV is dropping. It’s why radio is losing out to podcasting. It’s why print is slowly dying in favor of on-demand publication.
It’s why Kim Kardashian’s butt has an audience roughly the size of the Tonight Show at the height of Carson.
Fathom that one for a moment why don’t you.