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The Staggered Rise Of The Millennial Brand

The media sphere pays earnest attention to everything timely, serious or not. Millennials are the it. Despair has come over everybody older, particularly those knocked over by a kid buried in their smartphone, literally and figuratively. Generalizations about them are entertaining but not very illuminating. All we really know is that we’ve seen this all before.

another selfieMost demographers currently prescribe Millennial status to anybody born between 1980 (or 1981) and 1994 up to 2000. Those who “came of age” at the turn of the 21st Century is the defining argument. The advertising people were excited about calling them Generation Y until somebody in the brand-name department decided that wasn’t sexy. The new name helped to distinguish this cohort from the older Generation X (Gen X), also known as slackers. Books have been written, lectures presented and news features prepared by the zillions appropriately annotated with dots of research. Millennials have an identity.

They are, arguably, the most discussed socio-demographic group since the Baby Boomers. And it’s largely for the same reason. Baby Boomers came of age in the 1960’s and 1970’s in the West and were both beneficiaries of post-depression and post-War prosperity and targets of media and marketing attention. US Baby Boomers, as generally accepted, were born between 1946 and 1964. Across nations that experienced a post-War rise in birthrates the span of years varies somewhat. Ireland’s “boom” continued into 1982. In Scandinavia the birthrate spike was brief, roughly 1945 to 1952. Hungary’s post-War Baby Boom was curtailed by events in 1956. In Italy, Spain and Portugal the birthrate spiked, briefly, then continued significant declines. All in all, Baby Boomers became rich, from time to time, and famous.

Increased birthrates defined Baby Boomers arrival. There were a lot of them. Suburbs, schools and shopping malls were built, all connected by new highways, to accommodate the crush. Television became a fixture in living rooms. Radio changed from offering programs to pop music. 20th Century consumerism was born. “Come alive, you’re in the Pepsi generation.”

Marketers are challenged by Millennials but, at the very least, there’s a name to sell. Gen X, fashioned between Baby Boomers and Millennials, were dismissed as too difficult. Favorite market segment names always correspond with the favored demographic segment - teens through young adults - blessed with disposable incomes and no brand loyalty.

There is no question that each demographic cohort - Millennials included - follows well-understood life-stage characteristics. Everybody is a kid, then an adult, then old. It’s rather inescapable. People tend to go to school when they are young, work when they get older and then, with luck, off to the beach. Sometime between between school-age and young adulthood, folks tend to form families. For each stage there is a product, service and TV channel. For Millennials there are smartphone apps.

There are a whole bunch of Millennials out there. Bank of America Merrill Lynch (July 2015) estimates there are about 2 billion across the globe, Six out of seven live in emerging markets, largely because Baby Boomers in the West are living longer.

And the relationship between Millennials and Baby Boomers is much more than figurative. Eurostat published data (2015) on the percentage of young folks still living at home. Two-thirds of Italian Millennials are still with mom and dad, topping the European Union (EU) list, as they have for years. Danish young people are at the other end of that spectrum, 18.6%. Within the EU 28 in 2014 48% of people between 18 and 34 were living with their parents.

Some observers say Millennials have been defined - or scarred - by major political, economic and social events. The list starts with the HIV/AIDS virus identified, Chernobyl, the fall of the Berlin Wall and break-up of the Soviet Union, Tiananmen Square protests, the Balkans War, the Gulf War, the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings, 9/11, invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the Darfur genocide. Then there was the Great Recession followed by austerity economics. Don’t forget the Arab Spring. In the midst Google, Facebook, Twitter and the iPhone were launched.

A perpetual “quarter-life crisis” seems to characterize Western Millennials; “getting a new job” and “sleeping” of significant importance, said Harvard Business Review (July 2016). “It is a generation that suffers the results of the austerity policies carried out for years and it is the first generation that is poorer than its parents,” offered French public radio France Culture (October 30). “Their use of social networks has created news ways of self-expression.”

Millennials spend on travel experiences rather than material possessions, several studies have revealed. This isn’t so far fetched with air fares at historic lows. Plus, young people don’t start collecting stuff - from cars to sofas - until family formation time and that they seem to be delaying. Then, too, Millennials tend to gravitate to cities for work and fun, automobiles either not necessary or practical. Anyway, Baby Boomers did the same thing. Nothing new here.

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