With millennial expectations of advertising increasing and the rise of ad-blocking, the value exchange between brand and consumer is now more important than ever.

Depending on which definition you read as what constitutes a millennial, I am one. Apparently.

To paraphrase the singer Estelle, ‘1980 was the year that God made me’ (well, I was born in March, 1980, so technically, I was ‘made’ in 1979). And as if to prove my millennial credentials: my undergraduate year was the first intake that had to pay university tuition fees in the UK.

My 19-year-old student nephew is also a millennial. We sit pretty much at either ends of the millennial age-range. Our lives are completely different.

I’m a daily commuter, run a business, have a mortgage, a wife and young child. I have early nights, Ocado deliveries and weekend trips to the park. He has all day drinking sessions, exams, girlfriends, lie-ins and all-night parties.

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But apparently we are the same homogenous marketing demographic? What he likes, I like; what I want, he wants. It’s not quite so simple, is it?

Which is why more and more marketers grit their teeth at mere mention of the word millennial. And I largely agree with them. 

We are not a homogenous mass of similar tastes, views and actions. But there are certainly traits shared between this age group and how they consume digital media and what they expect from advertisers.

So whether you love, like or loathe the term millennial – for the purposes of this post I am going to refer to this age group as ‘millennials.’ Sorry about that.

The millennial value exchange

Digital advertising is increasingly judged on the ‘value exchange’. But what does the phrase ‘value exchange’ actually mean? 

In it’s simplest form this: both the brand and the consumer need to get something out of the advertising message exchange or interaction.

Traditionally, marketing messages have been delivered to captive audiences – TV, print, radio, cinema – where there is very little perceived value exchange. In these scenarios consumers are at the mercy of what the advertiser wants them to see. It’s a one-way street. 

Millennials don’t work like that. They expect the value exchange to be present. Their time is precious. In exchange for their time interacting with your brand they expect something in return. They expect a brand to entertain them. Or to offer them information they find interesting. 

This doesn’t mean that millennials hate advertising

Provided that the ‘value exchange’ is there, millennials are happy to engage. An Adyoulike study of 1,000 UK adults aged 18-33 in 2015 found that over half of UK millennials (57%) will happily visit online content that appeals to them even if it has been obviously paid for or sponsored. 

Millennials do not expect a brand to hammer them with the hard sell, or even worse – boring ads filled with irrelevant messaging, delivered in formats that are intrusive and annoying. That’s never been cool, but it really really isn’t any more. It’s digital brand suicide.

adyoulike infographic

All demographic groups are changing their behaviour to advertising

But whether you are a millennial or not, it’s worth noting that we’ve all changed how we use technology, consume media and engage with advertisers. It’s just that the younger generation act this way en-masse, and have been ‘early-adopters’ of this new view point.

Baby boomers are fickler in their media consumption than they were ten or fifteen years ago, for example, because, well, they can be: like the rest of us they have far more options and demands on their precious time than they did a generation ago.

A Nielsen study published in March 2015 found that 25% of baby boomers regularly watch video programming on a mobile device and over half of baby boomer respondents said they use electronic devices to listen to music and take or share photos.

Our own research shows that they engage with native adverts too. So all age groups (apart from perhaps the very old) use social media; they multi-screen; they watch videos on YouTube; they skip ads - who would have thought it? - just like millennials. 

There is no captive audience

Digital has changed the ‘captive’ audience forever. Marketers need to ‘earn’ the right to advertise to everyone in this hyper-connected, always on world, where content is currency and customer attention is easily lost at the swipe of a finger or click of a mouse.

It’s not just millennials. Whatever the demographic, consumers expect more from advertisers. 

As digital marketers it’s time that we all start to think this way for everyone and every campaign, not just for those buzzwordy, hard-to-define millennial-types. 

Dale Lovell

Published 21 July, 2016 by Dale Lovell

Dale Lovell is Content & Publishing Director at Adyoulike.com and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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