Why targeting millennials is bad for your brand

18/07/2018 By Jon Young

In December last year, Air France launched a new airline call Joon. Joon is aimed at their ‘connected’, ‘opportunistic’ and ‘epicurean’ target segment - the millennial.   Air France is not alone in this targeting.  Rarely a week goes by without some new article explaining what the millennial wants, or introducing a product aimed at them.

The momentum behind millennial targeting is surprising.  It champions an unsophisticated type of audience classification that most specialists moved away from years ago.  It also fails to take into account all sorts of other defining factors, including education, wealth, life-stage and attitudes (to name just a few).

So why has the idea taken hold?  Is there any truth in it?  Should we abandon our psychographic models and go back to age cohorts?  I was lucky enough to speak about this at the Future Global Opportunities UK Conference last month, and I’ve summarised my thoughts below.


The case for the millennial segment

There is some case for the millennials segment; British millennials have experienced a very different world to older generations.  They have grown up with smartphones, social media and the internet.  Their education has had a greater emphasis on healthy living, diversity and the environment.  House ownership is on the distant horizon and final salary pensions are in the realms of fantasy.

All of these factors will naturally drive different attitudes and behaviours.  Holiday Trends 2018 demonstrates that millennials are more likely than other generations to proactively make choices around sustainability on their holidays.  They are more likely to be teetotal, attempt to go vegan or to go on a wellness holiday.


The case against the millennial segment

But with just a few data points, we can pick holes in the millennial stereotype.   For all that millennials are meant to be champions for the environment, Baby Boomers are much more likely to avoid single-use plastic on their next holiday.  We’re told millennials are unique in their desire for experiential holidays, but it’s Baby Boomers who are most likely to seek out authentic local experiences (and, incidentally, who are least likely to be concerned about safety).

There are other reasons to be sceptical.  The millennial segment spans 18 years, which means we are lumping hopeful 21 year olds with cynical 30-somethings. You probably don’t need a jaded 38 year old like me to tell you how much your priorities change in that timeframe.

Even if we are to accept that millennials adopt some behaviours more than others, can we be certain this is set in stone?  Perhaps they are just the early adopters.  Older generations have more ingrained habits built on experience, but if a product is better or the situation demands it, they will adopt in the end.  Smartphone use shows this in action – just four years ago millennials were much more likely to use them, but now they are on a par with Generation X (with Baby Boomers closing in).


Why targeting millennials is dangerous

Last year, Uniworld launched a cruise line that excluded anyone aged over 45.  But a few weeks before they set sail, they were forced to scrap the age limit, citing high demand from all age groups (despite dropping the price!).

This (albeit isolated) example demonstrates quite nicely why millennial segmentation is risky.  By assuming a fixed set of attitudes, we can jump to conclusions and ignore all the nuances that exist within age groups, particularly in our highly personalised world.  It excludes people who share so-called millennial traits in other age groups – particularly the recently retired, frequent-travelling 50-somethings with a lot of money.  It throws out of the window sophisticated methods of segmentation developed by incredibly clever statisticians and branding experts.

Of course, it could well just be clever branding; perhaps people are using the millennial as a proxy for ‘newness’.  By communicating that they have reached out to ‘millennials’, they may simply be demonstrating that they are on-trend, fresh, and modern, knowing that anyone interested in ‘newness’ will jump on board, whatever their age.  Perhaps this is no different to using a stunning model to promote beauty products – it doesn’t mean you need to be beautiful to buy them (speaking from experience..!).

Obviously, some life pursuits have peaks at certain ages - dating, clubbing, having children, rearing children, life insurance, and retiring, to name just a few.  Fashion is also often specific to age groups; my grandfather didn’t embrace neo-romanticism, and I’m reluctant to become a hipster.  But unless products are definitely age or fashion-based, our advice is to understand your audiences by their behaviour or attitudes.  We are, of course, happy to help with this.  Together with our advanced analytics team, we regularly conduct attitudinal and behaviour-based segmentations. Why not get in touch?


Want to take a look at more of the data? You can see the full presentation delivered at Future Opportunities for Global Tourism 2018 here.