I’m a pretty typical millennial. I don’t own cable or even have my TV antenna hooked up (is that even what they’re called these days?). But, I can name a number of recent television ads, and I’m not alone. The ads that I see are all ones that have become popular enough that they’ve shown up on my Facebook feed, my Tumblr dashboard and my Twitter feed. It’s not hard to catch my attention (or that of my peers), but there is a formula to it.
Millennials don’t like to leave anyone out, especially on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, and/or race. Of course, individual members aren’t always morally upstanding, but the consensus of the generation is one of inoffensiveness. Gay marriage is championed by most, Sheryl Sandberg’s cry for women to lean in has been heeded and we pretty much all agree that racism is bad. Supporting any of these causes to generate a little buzz is a perfectly viable strategy to get your ad on the front page of BuzzFeed or Upworthy. Of course, if your company doesn’t live the values it espouses, things can get ugly quickly. This is the information age and insincerity is obvious and quickly pointed out.
The tired joke that cats are their humans’ overlords is actually pretty accurate on the Internet. There’s a reason that Budweiser went with a Clydesdale and a puppy to tell a love story. If it’s couched in cute, it’s a winning strategy right now. While the United States hasn’t quite reached Japanese culture’s level of adorableness, we’re well on our way with posters about tobacco use that feature penguins and beer ads centered on puppies. Cuteness is a good way to get attention and shares without courting any controversy whatsoever.
If your company doesn’t want to dip its toe into anything that could even possibly be conceived as controversial and cute isn’t your brand’s style, there are other options. Partnering up with popular franchises has some potential, as the Super Bowl Seinfeld ad from a few years ago showed. On the other hand, a blatant nod to the Matrix series flopped. There’s a fine line between giving a popular series a little more air time while promoting your brand and simply exploiting beloved characters. Generally, it’s best to not use dramatic shows for a supposed-to-be-silly commercial. Don’t try to meld genres — it doesn’t work in a 30-second spot. Keep both the series and the promotion authentic.
It’s a good time to be in marketing. More than sex is selling, which has opened the floodgates of creativity. Every minute of the day, Tumblr is creating the magic that marketers are hoping to capture. Spend some time drawing parallels between your brand strategy and the site, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a Millennial-friendly campaign.
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