Opinion

Are you a millennial? Or a geriatric mum? Time to ditch the bullsh*t demographics

Millennials are not some mystical group of brand-loving, technophiles - they are simply a very broad grouping of young adults, lumped together by age cohort. So why do we insist on, and obsess over, such demographic labels? Marketing editor Rachel Barnes explores whether it's time to shift towards shared mindsets.

"What is all this Gen Y, Gen Z, millennials bullsh*t?"

When Phil Barden called out these latest demographic labels on Twitter recently, it was a welcome reality check. Brains don’t change in a decade, was his simple point. Stop wasting your research money, was his second. Even BBC Radio 1’s outgoing music boss, George Erga­toudis, waded in, identifying a 40% overlap in musical tastes of 60- and 13-year-olds. Even our Creativity curator Luke Scheybeler  is loving Justin Bieber’s latest album.

The best case in point is the ‘millennial’. Do I hear a groan? While this ‘group’ (although therein lies the problem: the difference between a 30- and 20-year-old, as defined by their tech habits, is marked) undoubtedly is growing up in a world with a unique set of economic and technology-related circumstances altering their view on life, that has forever been the case, even in my Gen X/Gen Y-straddling days.

Pigeonholing

They are just being young, believing the world is theirs, for good or bad, and believing the older generations are clueless as to what the future holds.

As Alex Batchelor says, the millennials obsession is "a fantasy of always-connected Stepford Youth", preying on ageing marketers’ terror of missing out.

This brings into sharp focus the industry’s reliance on demographic segmentation. So, is there an alternative? Trinity Mirror has identified a wider group, Modal Britain: the modern majority. While millennials are at the centre of the perfect storm of recession, digital democratisation and access to higher education, the media company believes this environ­ment has changed the shape of Britain as a whole – a drive towards ‘norming’.

This is the modern consumer: people of different ages and socio-demographic groups sharing in popular culture: think grannies loving Breaking Bad (page 33).

Ding! Right on cue, as I write this column an email arrives from a certain Australian wine brand, launching a range aimed at the ‘millennial shopper’. Gawd, strike me…

Millennial mindset

While I’d vote to cast the word ‘millennial’ into oblivion for its overuse, the mindset ascribed to that group holds real meaning. Diageo has made that shift in thinking, away from birth-date cohorts toward the attitudes common to a ‘millennial mindset’.

But targeting has become a tyranny. VCCP’s Charles Vallance says he accepts that marketers must, of course, target their money, but doing so by age removes what fundamentally makes us human: "It’s almost incidental as to what people’s motivations are, which are much more primal and universal. We laugh and cry at the same things."

Targeting consumers as humans? Revolutionary. But this approach is behind ‘This Girl Can’ and why Reebok launched its ‘Be more human’ campaign last year.

I’m soon to find myself in a new pigeonhole, with a million-and-one marketing messages being thrown at me: that of first-time mother. But, aged 37, I’m sadly in a group defined as the ‘geriatric mother’. Yikes. Well there is a clear reason to ditch the ugly labels.