A Call For A Moratorium On Millennial Research

Right now, in an ad agency conference room somewhere in the United States, there is someone–a fairly senior person–saying the following:

“Let’s commission a survey of Millennials. We’ll ask questions that really get to the heart and core of what they’re about. The press will pick up on our press releases, and we’ll demonstrate to brands that we really get Millennials.”

The only problem is that it’s not just happening in “a” conference room–it’s happening in every freaking ad agency conference room across the United States.

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The most recent Millennial nonsense (at least that I’ve seen) comes from Mindshare. Apparently, this particular study was so important, it warranted two separate articles in MediaPost. Here are some of the important data points coming out of the study (well, at least as far the authors of the two articles are concerned):

  • 74% of Millennials indicate they “understand people’s flaws and accept them.”
  • 79% of Millennials “want their lives to have as much meaning as possible.” Apparently, “the desire for fun, meaning and happiness distinguishes Millennials from Gen X.”
  • 76% of Millennials believe “drive is just as importance as intelligence.”
  • 71% of Millennials agree with the statement “I’m a realist.” The MediaPost article says that “experiencing the Great Recession heightened Millennial’s value of pragmatism.”
  • 72% of Millennials say that “life is too short to be uptight.”

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Precious. The generation that overwhelmingly voted for “Hope” thinks that they’re realists.

Tell me: What did the 21% of Millennials who didn’t say they want their lives to have as much meaning as possible say they want in their lives?

How despicable and cranky are Gen Xers that they (apparently) don’t want fun, meaning, and happiness in their lives?

And I guess that most Boomers are like me in believing that life is plenty long to be uptight.

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There ought to be a law in market research: Thou shalt publish no research about a generation if the study doesn’t include respondents of other generations for comparative purposes.

Here are my contentions:

1. Many of Gen Y’s self-professed attributes are not statistically different from those of other generations.

2. If generational research had been half as prevalent 40 years ago as it is today, studies would have found that Boomers’ self-professed attributes were not terribly different than Gen Yers, when Boomers were Gen Yers’ age.

3. Self-professed attributes are useless, in the first place.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot:

4. Gen Xers really are different. They really are cranky and fun-hating. (Just kidding).

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Here is another contention: We don’t need any more “research” on Millennials. What we need is a moratorium on all this useless Gen Y research.

But, as a realist and pragmatist, I recognize that my call for a moratorium is likely to g0 unheeded, because I know that ad agencies are looking for press attention and a competitive edge. I understand their flaws–and I accept them. 

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If, however, agencies are going to conduct these studies, what they could do–to add at least a little value to the general level of marketing knowledge–is ask Gen Yers how their self-professed attributes and attitudes have changed.

This is what marketers need to understand better–not what Gen Yers think about themselves, but how those attitudes have changed, and are changing.

So I’m scared and I’m thinking that Millennials ain’t that young anymore. The oldest are in their mid-30s already. In 5 years, some of them will hit 40. Forty is a lot different than 20, no? Are the self-professed attitudes and attributes changing, and are Gen Yers becoming more like older generations, just as older generations were more like Gen Yers when those generations were younger?

That’s what we really need to know. Not the nonsense coming out of all these Millennial studies.

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