Observations by Claire Irving

Watching Mad Men’s Peggy smoking a spliff  while bashing out copy on her typewriter, I found myself reflecting on the 1960’s and the rebellion that defined the cohort that came of age during that era. As 70 million post-war Baby Boomers became teenagers and young adults in the 1960’s and 70’s, they demanded revolutionary thinking to change the fabric of American cultural life.

It seems today’s young adults and older teens, or the Millennials as we’ve come to refer to the population born between 1980 and 1995, share some of the same spirit that defined their Older Baby Boomer parents at the same age. Millennials also want to right the wrongs of society, value progress and desire social reform. However one attitudinal difference distinguishes their behavior from that of their Older Baby Boomer parents and therefore how they are shaping the cultural narrative and what they expect from brands.

Young adults in the 1960’s were more comfortable standing out, being the sole anarchist. Today’s young reformers’ identify is defined by the collective. Being part of a cultural movement or meaningful community addresses Millennial’s needs for productivity, control and security, and importantly validates their beliefs and opinions. Think of the student movements in London http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/8240181/Student-protests-key-dates-for-2011.html or Chile http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/8240181/Student-protests-key-dates-for-2011.html for example that sat alongside the Arab Spring in 2011 as examples of Millennial protest.  Striking when compared to visions of Baby Boomer objectors at Kent State or the sole protestor preaching in Parliament Square. Today’s students are arguing for reduction of fees – what might be thought of as better access to education - as compared to their Boomer parents in the 1960’s who were fighting for more radical and subversive changes, which continued to have impact to today .

Our synthesized studies with Millennials, conducted since 2007, consistently affirm their identity is a mash up of different influences, a mix and match of different fashions, playlists and socio-political views. To be defined by reference to one idealogy or typology is counter-intuitive. After all, this is the cohort that grew up with technological advances, which facilitated the coexistence of opposites. In short, Millennials are as comfortable with living with the power of also as their Boomer parents were defining themselves singularly as a Beatles’ or Stones’ fan.

To relate to Millennial’s in relevant ways, brands should engage with their need-states that often appear contradictory, ranging from achievement orientated vs discontented, idealistic vs self indulgent, creative vs seeking security from structure, dependency vs individuality, open & public vs mistrustful, and real meaning vs contrived. And the lesson for marketers from this is to see brands as richer eco-systems that utilize a more open range of expression in their tonality and identities than the one-dimensional identity guidelines approach they’ve grown comfortable with.