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Courting Gen-Y: Forget the Hype, Find Street Cred

MARKETING: Designer brands are spending millions on ad campaigns aimed at the Millennials, yet most of youth culture remains unmoved by the efforts.

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With those population gains projected, fashion marketers’ still can effectively appeal to Millennials. The remedy to their current predicament, as prescribed by marketing executives and generation experts, is straightforward: Fashion players must better grasp the Millennials’ values and aspirations — and start stirring more word-of-mouth via grassroots marketing — if they expect to spur the group to spend more on their products.

Mistakes currently being made by marketers targeting Millennials are many. For one thing, Millennials are often portrayed in advertising as dumb or naïve, and typically they are neither. They also get along better with their parents than prior groups and shop with them, yet seldom are both groups addressed in the same marketing campaign. They are America’s most ethnically and racially diverse generation ever, but multicultural campaigns targeting the group are rare. And running counter to sexuality’s growing presence in marketing and the media, most Millennials say they’d like to see less of it — a gripe they don’t have with violent imagery, however. In fact, generation experts said the past few years have seen steep declines in teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

"Millennials like to participate in consumer marketing culture, but they also take it with a grain of salt and push back against it," observed J. Walker Smith, president of Chapel Hill, N.C.-based market researcher Yankelovich Inc. Unlike Generation Xers, who have resisted ads, Smith said, Millennials like them — but only if they ring true; a hard sell is a turnoff. This marks a shift from the mind-set of the last group who enjoyed ads, and wanted to be featured in them, as they were growing up: the Baby Boomers (aka The Pepsi Generation).

At work, Smith noted, is the manner in which the youngest cohort receives news from mainstream media, as distinct from the way Xers and Boomers did at the same age. Characterizing Millennials as the Monica Lewinsky generation, he said, "The more they find out [via traditional news media], the less they want to know. Baby Boomers were the Watergate generation. They thought the more you find out, the more you know about what’s going on. Gen-X was the Iran Contra generation. They thought the more you find out, the less you [truly] know."
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