Award season woes…

As the deadlines approached this year’s marketing awards season, one of my colleagues in the digital team thought they would enter me in the ‘Young Rising Star’ category. As I laughed this off and protested (not too much, though…), the submission reply quickly bounced back into our inboxes…

Cue dramatic music as i stared at the red, unsympathetic writing that stated “Applicants must be under 30 years of age”. I thought to myself, it’s time to pack it all in, give up, my time is over…

I’m joking, of course. However, it did get me thinking; at the ripe age of 31, I may not be considered ‘young’ anymore (A hard pill to swallow). So how does this stat affect my ability to create campaigns that are marketed towards millennial audiences? (especially when the bulk of my work lives on social media, a landscape dominated by Gen Z and Millennials). Even the majority of Instagram’s core audience is aged 18-23.

If you’re used to floating around the depths of the internet at 3am (like myself), you’ve no doubt come across the old meme showing actor Steve Buscemi sporting a backwards red cap, ‘music band’ t-shirt, and holding dual (yes, dual) skateboards. The meme is usually accompanied by the phrase “How do you do, fellow kids?”.

Although old, this meme still seems to pop up frequently in online chatter around marketing, as the term “fellow kids” is used as a pejorative shorthand for presumably ‘aging’ advertisers attempting to relate to millennials using slang or memes. The subreddit of that phrase itself has well over half a million subscribers.

Firstly, I hate the term ‘millennial’. It’s too broad, and can’t possibly represent an entire generation of people that ranges all the way from 23 to 38! With so many ‘generation titles’ it can all get a little confusing.  One thing is certain however, the online youth (Millennial or younger) can be ruthless and unforgiving. Brands can be eaten up and spat out for breakfast if they’re not careful. This adds a whole new level of cautiousness and pressure when brainstorming ideas. I constantly find myself asking, what will ‘they’ think? Is this lame? Does this sound too ‘try-hard?’…

Some might say that having that sort of vigilance when ideating is a good thing, that It’ll keep the concepts fresh and relevant. Although I do believe that airing on the side of caution can be a logical choice, I feel constant second-guessing can dilute ideas and in-turn, leave them too ‘safe’. Ideation is meant to be a crazy, no holds barred exercise. Not one that’s shadowed with doubt.

Damn, that’s ruthless…

When I really examine this millennial ‘ruthlessness’ though, it’s not just thrown at any brand or advertisement that attempts to use memes to stay relevant to a younger audience. It’s aimed at brands who do it so arrogantly and recklessly, sometimes being so off the mark you can’t help but ask yourself “Did they actually research any of this?”.

Using current memes and cultural buzzwords isn’t a brave or ingenious thing to do. Young audiences can and will judge you for this, and I for one, completely agree with them…

I can see when brands regurgitate memes and trends (usually well after their ‘sell-by’ date) and find myself cringing along with everyone else.  It’s patronising to see brands attempt to jump on bandwagons (Can we call it ‘Brandwagons’?).

It’s not yours to take

Brands are being judged not only because they’re arrogantly presuming that using meme culture will automatically resonate with their target audience, but because they’re recycling creative that doesn’t belong to them. It was that exact same audience that came up with the funny new word, the video treatment, the weird but catchy song, so why do you think selling it back to them will work? If using a reference or slang-word to bolster an already existing and thought-through idea makes sense, then go for it – but don’t just think that adding it to a lifeless concept will magically make it relevant.

The real challenge is creating something that feels authentic and fresh. Sure, give a nod to the most recent trend or meme (when it feels right) but don’t have your campaign depend on it.

I’m part of a select group of “millennials” that entered their teen years’ pre-internet. Even at that, the idea of ‘social media’ wasn’t around until I was about 16.  I’ve seen memes before they were labelled memes, and watched videos go viral before I knew what viral meant. I’ve seen platforms come and go (RIP Myspace, gone but never forgotten), and witnessed the giant that is Facebook appear and blow competitors out of the water. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain… (3 points for that reference).

Although it all sounds rather dismal, this unique perspective has actually allowed me to document the trials and tribulations of digital content as it came to life for the first time, and continues to help me decide what “good” content really looks like.

I’m not saying I hit the mark every time, but one thing has stayed the same; Original and innovative content has always stood the test of time. Good ideas are ones that make sure to provide value, whether that’s through entertainment or education, and most importantly, good ideas are ones that are honest and authentic.

One final note, although I may hate the word…I’m still considered a Millennial, okay? (please, don’t take this away from me).