Three Examples Not To Use When Marketing to Millennials

The millennial: Everyone’s favorite punching bag and the marketer’s most coveted demographic.

While marketing to a specific generation is not a new concept, brands are nearly tripping over themselves to latch onto this relatively new buyer segment and it’s easy to see why. The generation is composed of 80 million Americans, according to Dan Schawbel, and its members flaunt upward of $200 billion in annual buying power.

Pretty attractive, right?

Still, it sometimes seems as though marketers approach millennials like quasi-mythical enigmas that can make or break a brand with a single selfie. Companies craft ads, develop new products and even re-brand themselves completely to simply get a piece of that millennial magic.

But sometimes, brands just don’t get it. Millennials are turned off by ads and have a nose for nonsense. That emoji-packed tweet is either the crack of a home run or the sound of a snapped twig that sends them scurrying back into the bushes. Some brands have nailed it and others have not. Here are some notable (and very funny) instances of the latter.

1. Pizza Hut

Several years ago, Pizza Hut was losing the Great Pizza War to the likes of Domino’s and Papa John’s, and they needed to act fast. They decided to do a full re-brand, focusing on the changing tastes of the younger generation.

Why it should have worked: Pizza Hut redesigned their website and completely overhauled their menu to appeal to the expanding millennial palette. Honey sriracha crust and Peruvian cherry tomatoes replaced the more traditional combinations those fancy millennials had perhaps deemed a bit too dull.

Why it failed: While you have to admire their gusto, it seems as though they stepped a little too hard on the gas and cruised right past their other customers. They tailored their offerings too specifically to this elusive and majestic audience and, unfortunately for the Hut, “sales have continued to slump since the turnaround.”

2. Hillary Clinton

As we’ve discussed before, Hillary Clinton’s brand has always kind of taken whatever shape it has needed to from time to time. This is a tremendous quality in a politician, but not necessarily for a brand struggling to connect with a younger base.

Why it should have worked: I’ll give the Clinton camp the benefit of the doubt here and say they were trying to have some fun on Twitter. One tenant of social marketing is you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously and Clinton was letting loose.

Why it failed: It’s no coincidence that millennials love Bernie Sanders and his non-politician-like level of honesty. Though I genuinely think Team Hillary was trying to be fun and relatable, the millennial masses weren’t really buying it. Some of the responses were brutal (and hilarious):


3. Kia

Back in 2012 when we all thought millennials didn’t care to own cars (we only recently figured out it was a little more complicated), Kia decided to lift some popular memes, superimpose a Kia Sorento onto them and let the internet have some fun. It did not go well.

Why it should have worked: The sort of brand validation that comes from user-generated content is an absolute premium. Kia’s “Seasons Memeing” approach to getting others involved in shaping their brand shows their hearts were in the right places.

Why it failed: Though user-generated content is social gold, when you overtly ask for it, you’re…well…asking for it. When the millennial generation sees right through your meme content, they’ll find very clever (and relentless) ways to tell you.

Toe the line

From these failures, we learn an important lesson: The line between clever marketing and pandering is thinner than ever. While there are many characteristics millennials share, they’re still individuals who are smart enough to know when your brand is after their wallet. If you think of them in terms of any other audience (what’s truly meaningful to them), you’ll win their favor in no time.

Tired of the fails? Check out our blog on content marketing that we absolutely love.

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