President Obama's recent appearance on "Between Two Ferns," Funny or Die’s internet comedy series starring Zach Galifianakis, and Macy’s CEO Terry Lungren’s interview this week with the popular social news and entertainment site Buzzfeed are both perfect examples of strategies that appeal to millennial consumers.
Obama didn’t decide to appear on "Between Two Ferns" in order to highlight his comedic skills, expand upon his celebrity status, or promote his career on the show, as done by the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Ben Affleck and Tina Fey. Rather, he deliberately stepped out of his mainstream comfort zone to directly urge America’s millennials to pay attention to the looming enrollment deadline for the Affordable Care Act. Similarly, Terry Lundgren didn’t choose to do an interview with Buzzfeed hoping that it would lead to a series of viral Macy’s memes or promote his career. He used this unconventional, seemingly anti-corporate news outlet to best communicate how Macy’s caters to the millennial consumers and shares their values and perspective on current topics like the minimum wage and the future of shopping.
The critical concept to appreciate from these events is that millennials are a major force to be recognized and reckoned with when it comes to our country’s social policies, corporate business decisions, and overall economic activity – and that as a group they will only become more important and more influential in every respect as time goes by. Ignoring the millennial generation for whatever reason (the most common being that they are not the “decision makers” and don’t control much income – both increasingly invalid as boomers retire and millennials penetrate the workforce) will undoubtedly prove to be a costly mistake.
Celebrities from Zach Galafianakis to Grumpy Cat, countless blogs, social feeds, and social news sites such as Buzzfeed and Mashable, along with entertainment sites like YouTube and Funny or Die, are some of the most influential ways to communicate with millennials. However, there is a major generational disconnect since most boomers do not read or interact with such media outlets; boomers’ firsthand knowledge about the millennial mindset generally comes from their own children or from millennials who work close by at the same company. Pursuant to Marshall McLuhan, “The medium is the message”, and companies who do not communicate on the media platforms that millennials inhabit and pay attention to may as well flush their marketing dollars down the toilet. As we’ve heard many times: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result defines insanity – and typical boomer-run Fortune 500 corporations continue to market to their longtime, established clients through the same media channels as they always have. How could they ever expect to prosper in the future and gain new clients going forward?
Yes, some of your existing clients, and even your competitors, may flinch or sneer at hearing that your product appeared in a video on CollegeHumor.com or that your spokesperson did an interview on Bro Bible. But you will be the one laughing at them when the CEO’s son brings up how “awesome” the interview was that his friend forwarded him earlier that day from BroBible.com.
If you haven't yet seen the Obama interview on B2F or read the Buzzfeed interview with Terry Lundgren, I recommend viewing both, as they are a unique and bold approach by sitting Presidents (of America and of America’s largest department store) to connect with a younger audience on its own turf. And in “turf wars," the dirtiest player is usually the one that tries the hardest and wins most often.