How Can You Reach Gen Y?

Q&A With Marketing to Millennials author Jeff Fromm

What should political campaigns and issues advertisers keep in mind when targeting millennials?

The millennial vote is very much in play. While many assume that the generation that helped elect Obama is a lock for the Democrats, the data shows us a very different picture. This dichotomy is especially true when you look at an important shift in millennials’ lives. They are having children. Starting families tends to settle a person down, and the data shows huge spikes in religious activity once millennials have kids.

Yet, most millennial parents say they expect to be better off financially a year from now. That tells us they are swayed by Obama’s work on the economy. With the majority of millennials identifying themselves as middle-of-the-road politically, it tells us that neither party has the vote locked up.

Is there any difference between trying to reach millennials of different ages—18 vs. 25 vs. 34? Would different messaging and media strategies apply?

In general, the media strategies remain the same regardless of a millennial’s age, but the messages are quite different.

Our data shows that millennials who have children are far more conservative than brands, researchers and politicians would believe. Once older millennials have kids, we see huge spikes in … identifying with conservative political ideals.

You’ve said that millennials respect “story living” over storytelling when it comes to political messaging. What does that mean?

Storytelling is what traditional, iconic brands did in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Story living is the way modern brands communicate by action, not just words. Millennials will look closely at what you do, not just what you say. So the big winners will take bold and authentic actions, not simply stump.

What should you never do in a political ad campaign targeting millennials?

The worst move for any politician is to appear inauthentic. This may seem obvious, but millennials define authenticity, authority and quality very differently than other generations. They feel that small, quiet brands can be authorities as long as they can back up what they are saying.

Millennial voters are capable of lifting relative unknowns like Zephyr Teachout [law professor and challenger to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the recent Democratic primary] from obscurity to relevance. Further, quality has a very different definition to a millennial. After all, this is a generation that thinks H&M is just as much of a luxury as Louis Vuitton. Pomp and circumstance will turn millennial voters away—it’s populism that will carry the day.

You say that millennials are easier to reach but harder to influence. Why is that?

Millennials make themselves available—they are open to new messages, friends and influencers. That flexibility and willingness to listen makes them easy to reach, but that’s when the challenge starts. Millennials default to Google, so you had better do what you say or they will catch you.

Never be all things to all people. In theory, this is such a simple concept, yet it’s so hard to live. I imagine in politics there is no greater challenge than to train yourself to own one main group, one main cause. But millennials have given politicians the opportunity to do just that. How refreshing to finally say out loud, “This is what I provide. This is what makes me unique.” That’s something millennials will rally around.

Was the old generation more gullible?

Older generations weren’t used to so many choices. When you only have three TV channels to choose from, you’re going to end up compromising. That’s true of entertainment, and likely true of politics. Millennials expect that there will always be a better option, a better candidate and a better product. When previous generations started political movements and protests, it took such a huge amount of effort and commitment to spread the word and rally a base. Millennials are used to creating movements through technology, which makes big ideas seem that much more within reach.

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.