Reaching the New Millennial in your marketing efforts?

3 Ways Old Companies Can Discover The Fountain Of Youth

CMO EXCLUSIVES | October 16, 2013

by Christie Garton
Author & Founder
U Chic


Can you teach an old dog new tricks? In the brand marketing world where there is an ever-pressing need to stay on the cutting edge of trends, especially when it comes to reaching Gen Y consumers (also known as Millennials), this question is particularly salient.


  • Millennials, unlike Gen X, actually like to be around their parents.
  • When Rudy Wilson, formerly of Frito-Lay, was contemplating ways to get to know Gen Y, the Xbox console was at the top of his must-have list.
  • Word-of-mouth conversations matter more than any expensive ad campaign you could develop.

In conducting research for my “Marketing to Millennials” book, I came across several brand examples that unequivocally say yes. How do you go about doing it? Here are the top three lessons learned from these best-in-class examples.

Tip No. 1: Research, implement, and repeat: When MTV president Stephen Friedman first took the helm of the company in 2008, everything was not as it seemed.

While MTV’s programming was doing well and dominating with its target demographic, there was a little softness in the ratings, enough to make Friedman want to dive a bit deeper to understand what was behind the dip.

“If you look at history of MTV over the last 30 years, we do [these studies] every few years as the generation changes. [MTV’s] model, from the beginning, is always changing,” Friedman told me. “But 2008 was kind of the loud message it was time once again. We saw these profound shifts, some really big differences between Gen X and Millennials. We realized our programming was not as reflective as it should be for what Millennials were asking for.”

A key finding? Millennials, unlike Gen X, actually like to be around their parents.

This finding led to MTV’s decision to green-light “16 and Pregnant,” a show that features the critical role parents play in helping teen children prepare to become parents. And no surprise, based on the research MTV had conducted, the show has been a hit.

Tip No. 2: Play an Xbox game or two: When Rudy Wilson, former vice president of marketing and brand leader of Frito-Lay, was contemplating ways to get to know Gen Y, the Xbox console was at the top of his must-have list. Seriously.

“Everyone feels like they can market to Millennials because they were a teen at one time,” Wilson told me during an interview. “But this teen is very different. Sure, there is a ton of research out there, but to really understand the generation, you have to spend time with them.”

Spending time with Millennials came down to connecting with members of the generation on their terms. This included everything from having Wilson’s team playing Xbox each week at work to frequenting the local Millennial-favorite clubs in Dallas where Frito-Lay is headquartered. He even tasked his team to create a weekly “cultural scorecard” to keep track of the hot, new trends among Gen Y consumers.

The result? A big win with a ground-breaking crowdsourced Super Bowl ad campaign and exponential sales growth among this target demo for the Doritos brand.

Tip No. 3: Give them something to talk (and laugh) about:Content marketing is the new frontier when it comes to reaching young consumers with your brand message with less emphasis on the “marketing” side of the strategy.

If you manage a brand, then someone, somewhere, is already talking about your brand. As most marketers know, these word-of-mouth conversations matter more than any expensive ad campaign you could develop. The best way to insert yourself into these conversations? Give them something remarkable to talk about.

Case in point? Old Spice, one of the oldest brands around. Founded in 1938, Old Spice may be old, but it is certainly staying young and relevant to Millennial consumers by giving them something to talk about.

Indeed, Old Spice has distinguished itself from the competition by featuring comical brand advocate Isaiah Mustafa in funny commercials that have become instant internet sensations.

The Old Spice Facebook page–frequently updated with funny comments, videos, and pictures–has reached more than 2.5 million likes. Its other social media platforms have accomplished similar feats, with thousands following the company on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

Old Spice’s reinvented approach to marketing is popular among Millennials because the brand has created an entertaining story that they are interested in reading and sharing with their many online friends. (By the way, from the research, we know that Millennials are very influential, thanks to the more online connections they have than older generations.) Thanks to this approach, Old Spice can talk more about the brand without focusing solely on the product.

Taking these three tips together, older brands can stay relevant to Millennial consumers who have higher expectations for the brands they choose to support.

About Christie Garton

Christie Garton left the legal field in 2006 to found her company, U Chic Media, which provides content, products and resources targeted to the female college student audience. A noted expert on the Millennial and college markets, Christie has written for The Huffington Post, Seventeen Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, and served as a philanthropy columnist for USA Today

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