The Men's Issue

The Millennial Male Is Not Who You Think He Is

Marketers should take note

But for marketers, not seeing un-millennials as a growth opportunity is risky, in that eventually they’re apt to turn the corner. If you don’t market to them, someone else will. Says Shiffman: “You can’t ignore them. They’re helping shape and define a lot that’s going on. But you have to know that it’s a long-term growth proposition. They may not be volume drivers.”

Max says he’s fine with cultivating brand loyalty. “I love ads,” he says. “I love marketing campaigns. I love to see what kind of demographic I’m supposed to be in.” Social media callouts piss him off—the whole “hit us up on Twitter” thing sounds like it’s asking for a favor to him (which, of course, it is).

Meaning the question remains how to market to this group. Viacom evp, integrated marketing Dario Spina thinks he has the answer. “Comedy as a genre seems to be No. 1, above and beyond everything else in terms of what millennial males relate to, share and go to first,” he explains. “Funny is the new rock ’n’ roll.”

Ivan, a 27-year-old freelance copy editor and guitarist from Queens, remains quite serious about his rock ’n’ roll, but he does like the funny stuff (“Who would say they don’t love comedy?”), and he’s highly engaged with media in general. Ivan is nostalgic for shows that came out before he was old enough to appreciate them. “With Breaking Bad and Mad Men [again, on Netflix], it’s just exposition between cliffhangers, and part of the enjoyment is sort of being a little disappointed by them and talking about their shortcomings,” he says. “The Sopranos and early seasons of The Simpsons, they’re just masterpieces.”

Un-millennials have no illusions about what brands represent: companies that want their money. That’s fine if you’re providing a service, but increasingly the means of delivering ads—networks, ISPs, cable providers—all seem like annoying intermediaries who block or restrict users’ access to the things they actually want. If un-millennial men can be said to have a single economic value beyond ethical concerns, it’s the purity of a given transaction: How many middlemen am I greasing with this purchase? How much money is going to people who actively make my life (or someone else’s life) worse?

It’s one reason Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns resonate so strongly with these guys. What separates you from the herd is not which gatekeepers you went to college with (or, more likely, which gatekeepers’ kids), but how good you are. And it gives the consumer an opportunity to directly reward the artist. Ivan managed to raise enough dough from friends and fans for his band Sweet Fix to professionally record its first album.

If that suggests that millennials themselves are the best marketers to millennials, you won’t get any argument from Lance Fensterman, head of ReedPOP, which holds conventions like this week’s New York Comic Con and several other anime and UFC events around the country. Niche marketing, Fensterman says, is his thing. When asked how one markets broadly to millennial men, he replies: “We don’t do broad. … You’re talking about a passion, not a demographic. Parents of children under the age of 5 is a demographic; guys who like watching [UFC fighter] Anderson Silva beat the shit out of someone, that’s a passion.” And yes, there’s overlap between the two.

It is possible to tap that kind of passion, especially for artists. “I paid for the production and posting of this video with my own money,” proclaimed comic Louis C.K. when he posted his set Live at the Beacon Theater on his site. “I would like to be able to post more material to the fans in this way, which makes it cheaper for the buyer and more pleasant for me.”

Ivan says he’s fine with ads if the value proposition is similar to the one C.K. makes. “I am basically on board for advertising if it makes things like FM radio and television possible and free,” he says. “That is a trade I am happy to make.”

(C.K.’s production pulled in $500,000, incidentally. By paying the requested $5 and entering an email address in exchange for the download, fans could also opt to get future communications from C.K.—or not, by clicking on the option “No, leave me alone forever, you fat idiot.”)

A couple of those interviewed admit to occasional pirating, but all are embarrassed by it, and Steve and Ivan have harsh words for pirates, who, they say, helped destroy an industry they’re trying to make it in. “Everybody talks about the shitty contracts record companies used to give to bands,” Ivan says. “Having a shitty contract is now an unattainable goal for me and many musicians that I know.”

Meanwhile, Shiffman points to the optimism of his generation of lost bros. “They’re smarter, they’re more informed,” he says. “They’re looking for brands that really understand what they’re passionately connected to, and it’s about a value component.”

“They’ve got some challenges, but they’re very optimistic—and you know, kudos to them,” Shiffman says. “I’m a Gen Xer. I would have been bitter.”

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