February 5, 2013

Millennials and the “tanning effect”

The rise of social media and nontraditional marketing techniques has also strengthened this brand-youth connection.

The Internet is everywhere — seeping into conversations, bulging out of jean pockets and trembling in the hands of nearly half of the American population. Never in history has access to information been so readily available; never has the information itself been so torrential. One side effect of all this interconnectivity: It has left the youth of first-world countries with ADD. Their attention spans have been cut in half and their efforts to find something engaging usually leave them numb.

Given this bleak reality, how can an advertiser or brand get the attention of the Millennials?

We’ve all seen how, with just one photo in the press, celebrities can set trends. This is especially true right now in hip-hop culture. Adidas, Tommy Hilfiger, Sprite, Cristal and Range Rover are all brands that have gained popularity and success because of the culture’s influence on consumers. Not only have hip-hop artists gotten ordinary people to follow their fashions, they’ve helped some brands connect with an audience that would’ve been unreachable otherwise — Millennials like me. The rise of social media and nontraditional marketing techniques has also strengthened this brand-youth connection.

The “tanning effect” — a term coined by Steve Stoute, brand marketing executive and founder of Translation LLC — refers to the blurring of cultural and demographic lines that is giving young Americans the same “mental complexion” based on shared experiences and values. Because Millennials can access other cultures (e.g., hip-hop) so readily through the media, we can be easily influenced. Subsequently, marketers are no longer targeting a specific race, but rather a collective mind-set. Brands need to understand the concept of “tanning” to successfully connect with young consumers across the socioeconomic spectrum.

How? The most common strategy is to simply pay a celebrity to represent the brand in the media. But unless you have millions of dollars to spend on a marketing campaign, this isn’t always feasible. Let’s stick to the basics:

  • A brand needs to be authentic. Always stay true to your brand identity. Consumers, especially young people, can spot a fake and hate being marketed to.
  • Do your research. Millennials appreciate when you take the time to get to know who we really are. Even though we have similar thought processes when it comes to purchasing things, we also have different personalities and values.
  • And finally, be original. Stay far away from cookie-cutter campaigns and things that seem cool. Be subtle in your approach; we can always tell when you’re trying too hard.
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