It sounds like a joke: Coke, the Olympics and the Oscars walked into a bar…
It’s no joke. These three brand titans just showed us what it means to me a millennial company. A millennial company isn’t just about a company that caters to a millennial audience made up of generation Y’ers. It’s about perspective. A millennial company looks to the future and realizes that you’re only a part of it if your brand reflects the current consumer consciousness. As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos puts it: “All businesses need to be young forever. If your customer base ages with you, you’re Woolworth’s.”
As Coke, the Olympics, and the Oscars showed us, the current consumer consciousness for a millennial audience is all about storytelling.
The soft drink juggernaut blew us away during Superbowl with an ad that changed history. Featuring a patchwork of American diversity, the ad was cradled by a beautifully sung “America, the Beautiful.” The twist: it was sung in streams of different languages making up the American landscape. The sell: This is America; this is Coke. It was a huge hit and completely changed the game. At no point did Coke try to say the obvious selling point, or try to make a political message. It just captured the American sentiment, packaged it, and pitched it. That it comes from Coke is enough of an association for any viewer – and that’s what Coke understands.
This year, just as many eyes were on the emerging side stories as on the athletes on game day. We saw media flooded with news about the stray dog round-up in Sochi. Humanitarian stories considered who was negatively impacted by the super construction and clean up efforts of a city starved for Olympic income. We also saw journalists capture pictures of their experiences dealing with the poor living conditions during their stay in Sochi. In fact, memes popped up over it. And then we saw the LGBT factor, merging politics in with the Olympics. And finally, we had an issue piece on the nude photography protests some Lebanese citizens created in response to the provocative photo by the Lebanese skier Jackie Chamoun.
I walked away from the Olympics knowing more about international issues than who won the gold where. From a news media perspective, this tells you that news is also slowly molding itself to a Millennial audience that wants to hear about the human side of an event. In generations past, the Olympics were big; the Olympics were the only event that needed paying attention to. Now, for a Millennial audience, gaps in the big picture are just as important as the big picture itself.
Aside from the celebrity fan-fare, the wardrobe, the films, and line-up of immaculately made stars were several side stories that also weaved their way into the Oscars this year. As with the Olympics, side stories are major news to Millenials. One of them was about Sarah Jones, an assistant crew member on “Midnight Rider” who lost her life during production. The 27 year old camera operation was hit by a freight train, which raised production safety issues for cast members that aren’t starlets. Looking beyond starlets, there was another back story that looked at where the original child cast members for “Slumdog Millionaire” are today – nearly all of whom were deemed exploited (by being paid pennies on the dollar) and then abandoned by industry producers.
This brings us to the brand narrative the Oscars tried to sell: that stars are just everyday people like the rest of us. They’re “relatable”. Impromptu pizza deliveries so unsurreptitiously eaten and the selfies taken were aides in bolstering that image. Of course, there’s also the fact that Samsung and Pepsi worked to advertise themselves in the process – which brings us to another point.
Marketers understand that Millenials want stories. They don’t want to be told how to feel about a product, nor pushed to buy it. Millenials respond best to usage, which is why you see an increased number of direct in-show product placement. As part of the $20 million dollar ad deal with ABC’s viewing of the Oscars, Samsung negotiated to have the Galaxy Smartphone integrated into the show. So what felt like a spontaneous act of much-loved celebrities doing what all Millenials do, was actually a quite contrived (and genius) move by marketers who get the Millennial audience. For the millennial, marketing works best when it’s integrated into how we view each other and how it tells a story. Brands that can create that level of dialogue have our attention.