What if Millennials Are … Sort of Like Everyone Else?

Marketers have been scrutinizing Gen Y for years. Maybe there's not much to see after all

Brands are awfully excited about twentysomething consumers right now, and understandably so. Millennial consumers (Gen Yers, we called them, if you remember the 1990s) are now a quarter of the U.S. population and wield somewhere between $200 billion and $1.3 trillion in spending power. Sound familiar?

Of course it does. We’ve been reading studies about millennials for years now. And if you keep up with all the surveys, chances are you’re confused as hell. Millennials are “forging a distinctive path into adulthood” (Pew Research), but also “lazy and unprepared” (Bentley University.) They are “optimistic about the economy” (Shullman Research Center), but “pessimistic about the future” (One Young World). They’re “lazy and uninterested in their jobs” (Workplace Options) and yet somehow “taking over the world” (Hartman Group). And all the while, we are assured, millennials are somehow “changing the face of marketing forever” (Boston Consulting).


Well, here’s another theory: What if millennials are—sacrilege!—more or less like everybody else?

For instance, consider the results of a just-released study from digital shop Moosylvania. While the results confirm much of what’s long been said about how young people choose, consume and talk about brands (i.e., social media is really important), many of the millennial behaviors it documents could just as easily be said about, well, lots of people.

For example, asked how they learn about brands, 51 percent of millennials replied Facebook—but nearly as many (45 percent) reported it was from friends or family. Thirty-six percent said they learned about brands from television commercials—even though TV was rumored to be just for oldsters nowadays. (Oh, and Twitter? Only 18 percent of millennials learned about brands from that medium.)

When it comes to brand-related content that’s credible and believable, blogs and social media won the nod of 31 percent of millennials, but traditional word of mouth from friends came in with 43 percent.

Shopping for clothes? Forty-five percent of would-be millennial customers will consider a blog post about a clothing brand, but 62 percent prefer to see and touch it in person. “Going to the store and experiencing the product is incredibly valuable,” Moosylvania CEO Norty Cohen told us. “Even consumer packaged goods are high in that respect.”

And while liking something on Facebook is how 59 percent of millennial respondents say they advocate for a brand, nearly as many—54 percent—say they show their love by simply … going out and buying it.

Nobody’s saying that there aren't differences in how twentysomething consumers shop (Moosylvania's study offers a nuanced look at the importance of apps, online video and much else.) But numbers like the ones above fall in line with other recent studies that suggest, in major respects, millennials aren’t really all that different. Earlier this year, for instance, research from Radius Global Market Research revealed that both baby boomers and millennials consider the same factors before they buy something: quality, price and value (big news there, huh?)

Then there was last summer’s survey from Accenture, which admitted: “Although millennials have earned a reputation for viewing the world through a uniquely digital lens, our results found some remarkable similarities between them and their predecessors: the baby boomers and Generation X.” For example, they like to compare prices, save money and hit the malls.

Y'know, just like the rest of us.

@UpperEastRob robert.klara@adweek.com Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.