Brands Are Reaching Out to Millennials Who Want a Break From ‘Adulting’

Coloring books, summer camps and nice, hot meals

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Growing up is never easy, and millennials have turned the struggle into a slang word: "adulting," with dedicated memes that say things like, "I'm done adulting for the rest of the day," as well as, "Adulting is hard. I deserve wine."

"When you say, 'I'm adulting,' it means you're taking care of business," explained Kelly Williams Brown, author of Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps. "Millennials have anxieties that other people have it together, and they don't. No one feels like a grown-up. It's not like you wake up one day and have all of these capabilities when you turn 18 or 21."

Every generation has, to some extent, felt like it's faking it at grown-up life. "What's different now is that it's a much more casual, social media-driven culture," said Mark Potts, head of insights at Mindshare North America, which has been tracking the trend in its Culture Vulture report. "Millennials talk about things and poke fun at things much more openly, including being an adult."

As a way to take a break from "adulting" and escape the pressures of grown-up life, millennials are signing up for adult summer camps. Camp Throwback, based in Clarksville, Ohio, features events like an '80s party and Drunk Field Day, and enlists brands such as Cabela's, Cutter insect repellent and art supply maker Tulip to sponsor camp activities. "Being an adult sucks. It's stressful. This gives people a chance to be a teenager again and escape everyday life, and it's really fun and nostalgic," said Brittany Gibbons, Camp Throwback's founder.

Another camp, Camp Grounded, focuses on "digital detox," letting millennials put away their devices for four days and engage in activities like tai chi and yoga. "The camp's popularity has grown because people want to unplug, and they want that analog, nostalgic experience," said Levi Felix, founder of Camp Grounded.

Similarly, adult coloring books—ranging from snarky titles like, Have a Nice Life, Asshole: The Breakup Stress Reliever Adult Coloring Book, to more traditional ones—are a way for millennials to de-stress. "Millennials are really embracing coloring books. It's something you can do with your hands without electronics bothering you a million times a second," said Craig Skinner, business leader for Crayola Color Escapes, a line of adult coloring books that launched in September 2015. Crayola promotes the books widely on social media, reposting feedback from customers like, "Yes, I'm 28. Yes, I bought the adult coloring kit."

In March, Timberland ran a four-page coloring book ad in Marie Claire featuring illustrations of fashion blogger Erica Lavelanet in various New York City locales, and hosted coloring events at its stores in New York and Chicago. "Millennials are really embracing the coloring book trend, and we loved the idea of tapping into that," said Mike Isabella, director of customer engagement at Timberland. "It really brought our ads to life."

There's room for other brands to tap into millennials' anxiety about growing up as well, said Megan Hartman, strategy director at Red Peak Youth. "Taking the pain points out of adulthood is the way to make this generation loyal to you. [Food delivery service] Seamless has subway ads that say, 'Cook when you're dead, or living in Westchester.' It hits the nail on the head. It uses a tone of voice that's not only friendly and accessible, but directly addresses their fears of not wanting to grow up."

Financial brands, in particular, are well positioned to take advantage of the "adulting" phenomenon, Williams Brown said. "You could say, 'Maybe your finances aren't in order, but come in to our credit union and chat with us, and we can help you figure it out.' It's more amorphous than just putting 'hashtag adulting' on an ad," she said. "Think about when you were 22 and everything was confusing and you were constantly overdrawing your bank account and your particleboard dresser dissolved in the rain. What would have been helpful to you? It's about saying, 'You don't know everything, and that's OK. It's not the end of the world.'"

This story first appeared in the April 11 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@ChristineBirkne Christine Birkner is a Chicago-based freelance writer who covers marketing and advertising.