Op-Ed: My Generation – Stop Describing Us and Start Listening to US

By Kiran Aditham 

We always welcome new writer to the fold and now we bring in the first in a series of of posts Maude Standish,
co-founder of Tarot, a Millennial trend and insight company, who will look at Millennial trends and their implications for brands. Now, on with the show.

We get it.  You don’t like us. And by us, I mean the roughly 82 million Millennials living in the US.  You think we are all living in our parents’ basement, eating organic food we bought with food stamps, posting selfies, and counting down the day not by what we did, but how many “Likes” the internet bestowed on us.


You think we are idiots. No matter that we are on our way to being the most educated generation in the history of America, you think we aren’t going to understand you unless you talk to us in internet speak. OMG. LOL. ?WTF?

You think it’s our fault that we aren’t listening to you. That we are too ADHD to pay attention to what’s important. (And OBVI what you are saying is TOTES more important than anything else we could possibly be doing. I’ll put this iPhone down now and watch your ad.) But guess what?   It’s not our fault that we’re not listening to you–it’s yours.

Yeah, yours. Because you Boomers and Gen Xers are all so busy describing us that you have forgotten to listen to us. Even if we are all those things that you think we are, that’s not how we see ourselves. And until you see us as we see ourselves you are not going to connect with us.

Okay, maybe it’s not totally your fault.  (At this moment you are likely thinking, “But I have Millennial friends!”) But even just a quick glance and you’ll see that Millennials are being defined by everyone besides themselves. We’ve been called spoiled, entitled, lacking in empathy, superficial, lazy, disengaged, slutty, incapable of growing up, broke, and sell-outs. For god-sakes, there is even an active debate over whether or not we are the worst generation in history. You guys are so busy generationally-trolling, that you forget that no matter whether we are the worst or the best, we are the future. Not only are we bigger, but we are younger and I don’t want to have to spell it out for you, but all things must come to pass… even great generations.

Marketers like to jest about how Millennials were raised to see themselves as “special snowflakes,” and given the dominant parenting trends of the 80s and 90s this is pretty accurate. But these same marketers fail to remember the simplest thing that every first grader knows–No two snowflakes are the same. Just as no two members of the massive Millennial generation are the same. So just because your co-worker’s son hasn’t figured out his career path and is living off the goodwill of daddy, that doesn’t mean the rest of us are lazy. And just because one member of the generation does something once in Brooklyn, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a trend.

Yes, there are generational trends—broad ig sweeping macro forces that touch the majority of Millennials’ lives. But you have to remember when finding these trends to talk to Millennials directly and really hear them because Millennials are still individuals who engage with trends in a myriad of ways. I fully realize that this is super simple and obvious advice, which is why it still blows my mind at how often brands don’t follow it.  It’s sort of like when your doctor says to be healthy you need to get a full eight hours of sleep and you nod your head, leave her office, and immediately stay up late working on a project only to wake up early to go to work.

There are still too many brands and agencies that are just looking to apply a Millennial Band-Aid. They do this by doing market research after they have already developed the ad or product to see what the kids will think or they hire a Millennial “expert” from a different generation who is supremely disconnected from actual youth culture.

Best-case scenario—and one that all of us in the trends world know to well—they hire a Millennial expert who knows what they are talking about, but they only bring them in for a brainstorm or presentation and don’t actually integrate their expertise into the development of the product. Yes, I’ve had clients who I hold close to my heart because they actually integrated Millennial insight into the development of their campaigns in a significant manner, but unfortunately those are rare and in the end actually the super-special snowflakes. It’s time for more agencies and brands to stop getting their B12 shots of Millennial expertise and to create internal structures that truly incorporate the voices of this generation into their development process.