Competition is part of the American way. Who’s better, who’s tougher, who smarter, and…who’s got more money. We may think about such competition on an individual or corporate level but now it seems to be deepening even on the age demographic level. Undeniably, millennials are all the talk of analysis, strategy, and media coverage these days; but it seems that some boomers are actually trying to vie more with millennials for the seat of importance and are beginning to voice discontent over what could be considered as an overshadowing and overlooking from the general market — a veritable cooling down of a once hot spotlight held for so long. Millennials are now seen as the star of the show no matter what issue, sector, or playing field; but is the focus truly justified over the Boomer?
I hadn’t considered this demo tug-of-war until, as a digi-cultural trend analyst specializing in trends in cultural intelligence and digital behavior — particularly regarding the millennial age group — I was recently asked to deliver a keynote at the Professional Beauty Association Executive Summit. My talk was about millennials, trends, forecasts. There were certainly boomers (and what appeared to be late Gen Xers) that made up the bulk of the audience. After a while a woman of about 60 rose her hand, looking confounded and maybe even possibly hurt asked, “I just don’t understand why we are all spending so much time on millennials. We’re the ones with all the money, after all!” Of course we all know that the interest in the millennial demo is so much broader than just financial currency, but the statement made me stop and think. I quickly begin to do a quick bit of micro-sociology research later in Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. I asked a few boomers what they thought of the focus, not millennials themselves (to which we already know the response from many articles and live statements is rather negative) but rather the amount of focus on millennials. The cultural intel was rather surprising. Many of the boomers seemed to express the exact same sentiment as the attendee at the Summit.
So just what is going on here? Could this be some kind of “star wars”-of-sorts given that millennials have now, numerically supplanted the number of boomers and taking their former power status to boot? And if so, is the new demo worthy of such a pedestal? Michael Bearden, a top musical director who has worked with everyone from Michael Jackson to Lady Gaga to Bruce Springsteen to Neil Young explains, “Having worked with over 400 recording artists in my career, suffice to say that I have a wide cross reference of older and newer artists and audiences from which to draw upon for this discussion. And one thing I know is that ‘hype’ is a must if you want to have any chance of reaching an audience in any industry. Because the rules of the game of connecting with the public have changed so much, hype around reaching younger, tastemakers is absolute.”
Of course reaching this audience seems to be about the bottom line known as sales and revenue generation. According to a recent posting on Forbes.com, there are approximately eighty million millennials in America alone and they represent about a fourth of the entire population, with $200 billion in annual buying power. They have a lot of influence and are trendsetters across all industries from cars to content. However, some people seem to debate this financial power figure given the unemployment stats (though only half now of what they were in 2010) and younger people. But one scenario that an advertising executive told me is this, ” Either way, even if 18-34 year olds were less affluent, they have a much longer expected lifespan. So we as advertisers see this an opportunity to have a longer relationship and get more return for their ad dollars. It’s just that simple and why there is a lot of hype, at least from our perspective.”
This fact coupled with the fact that younger people seem to be more impulsive with their money, less focused on big expenses like mortgages, retirement, kids’ college money also contributes to the stardust and frenzy around the demo. 18-34 year-olds are more likely to be single, so they have more likely to go out, eat out, buy clothes. And certainly there is more social pressure to be cool and have the latest greatest whatever so they are naturally a target.
But of course, all perspective is about getting to a balanced vision, particularly on this subject. Thus, “while baby boomers and generation X have the majority of the spending power right now, millennials represent what is projected to become the most powerful generation of consumers ever,” explains Matthew Clyde, President and Founder of Ideas Collide, a top digital agency. “Brand and marketing agencies like ours are targeting millennials because they represent the future market and impact upcoming consumerism trends. Millennials also fit perfectly fit into today’s most effective and cost-efficient marketing strategies utilizing digital content such as videos, original graphics, social media, emails, and blogs. Millennials are not only the biggest consumers of this content, but when done right, have been proven to become intensely loyal brand advocates who act as almost surrogate spokespeople. That’s an opportunity brands see in millennials they can’t find in baby boomers or even Generation X.”
That’s enough power to be worthy of anyone’s focus. But beyond the outer shell of statistics and consumption patterns, the vast ideological differences between boomers and millennials also contribute to the huge spotlight on this younger demo. They are seen as the vanguards of true change, and that just may be the real interest. They are driving discussion around and creation of new subject matter in our culture, much of which takes place across digital platforms and via image (video, emoji, still). This new value development combined with the trend of an urban 3.0 impact from such a largely diverse demographic as well — as evidenced even in the huge success of multi-ethnic entertainment via vehicles such as the critical acclaim of Broadway’s “Hamilton”, the bo office success of the film “Straight Outta Compton,” the NBC ratings of “The Wiz,” the Fox ratings of “Empire,” and upcoming visual projects from such notables as Lee Daniels, Russell Simmons, Nicki Minaj, and more — creates a growing paradigm shift of voice and perspective that millennials are, by and large, creating; and which our country has never seen before now.
Indeed, the beauty of life is that it encompasses the various qualities and gifts that all generations have to offer. That is undeniable. But it’s also just a fact that one tends to predominate at a time. Indeed, it may very well be time to pass on the Boomer baton and simply support and celebrate the latest star that is the Millennial demo and see just where that takes us next in our culture.