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The Definitive List of Things Millennials Hate to See in Ads

According to millennials
  • February 3, 2016, 11:45 PM EST
  • Sponsored

Illustrations: Graham Erwin

Have you ever tried to talk to a millennial like, you know, a millennial? FOMO, yasss, on fleek? Well, don't. Millennials—and the rest of us—are embarrassed for you.

Odyssey, a social content platform that discovers and shares a rich diversity of millennial voices from hundreds of local communities, surveyed their network of millennials to gain more insight into how their audience does and doesn't want brands to communicate with them. The findings from more than 1,200 respondents nationwide show that while millennials follow an average of 30 brands across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, there's a host of words that, when used by brands to communicate with them, are a big eye roll.

At the end of the day, respondents say it's all about an authentic relationship, and word choice is really, really important. To keep your brand's vocabulary in check, here are seven words marketers should never say to that most coveted of demographics:

When brands use abbreviations like LOL, YOLO and FOMO, they should prepare to RIP. Eighty-three percent of millennials think the use of these abbreviations are a poor attempt by brands to relate to them. "It couldn't be more obvious that they haven't done their research and don't know what's going on in our lives," one respondent said. One thing is for sure: Brands shouldn't have any FOMO when it comes to using abbreviations. 

Any type of slang will get your brand in trouble. Whether it's "bae," "yasss," or "swag," millennials certainly won't be "lit." Two-thirds of millennials think slang isn't effective when communicating with them on social platforms. And considering 33 percent of millennials check Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat over 8 times a day, chances are your casual attempt at using slang will be noted. Said one respondent: "Slang makes the advertiser seem especially out of touch when they incorrectly use that language in a casual environment."

This phrase, commonly used to express "perfection," is far from perfect when used by brands—70 percent of respondents didn't like seeing it. "On fleek" is a relatively new term amongst millennials, so heed their warning: Jumping on popular slang terms too soon can make your brand seem especially desperate and overeager.

This one is two-fold: Don't use the word hip to describe millennials and don't try acting hip to appeal to them. "Don't try too hard, just be honest and interesting," is what one millennial respondent said. Rather than talking about hipness or wasting time worrying how cool your brand is, it's better to be honest. According to the study, Taco Bell, Victoria's Secret, American Eagle and Starbucks are a few of the brands that engage best with this demographic.

Not surprisingly, one word to not use when advertising to millennials is, well, the word millennial. Forty-two percent of those surveyed despise this word if spoken by advertisers. "I appreciate when brands speak to me as an adult rather than a 'chill' millennial," said a respondent. "Ads can be fun, goofy or cool without making me feel like they are unprofessional." In other words, building your brand is a profession, so be professional. 

Winky face, clapping hands, thumbs up—these are the least favored brand communication methods according to Odyssey's survey. Only 3 percent of respondents said brands should use them. Ninety-two percent of the online population uses emojis, so they may seem like an obvious way to connect with digitally savvy millennials. However, 27 percent and 21 percent of millennials found hashtags or GIFs, respectively, to be a more acceptable form of communication.

One thing survey respondents were emphatic about is not relying on celebrity catch phrases or lyrics. "Don't use pretty much anything a celebrity says," as one respondent put it. Hard to argue with that.

Conclusion: Brands shouldn't be intimidated by engaging with millennials because they actually enjoy having a real relationship with the brands they love. But the conversation should be built around trust and should play into the brand's own goodwill—millennials appreciate that more than you'd think. If your millennial consumers expect to hear you say words like FOMO or on fleek, then say them. Otherwise, just stick to the words that fit your brand's personality.

To learn more about how Odyssey can help brands reach and resonate with millennials, you can email them at