The skill of marketing to millennials

Millennials, (those born from 1980 – 2000) are a massive generation with a population size of 76.6 million, easily making them the biggest generation currently consuming products in the market.

Interestingly, businesses are finding that one of the biggest challenges they’re facing is connecting with the millennial market (See Spenner, 2014: Inside the Millennial Mind). They have different values to previous generations and are far more connected to the digital world with 34% of millennials claiming to be more likely to buy a brand that is using social media, compared to just 16% of generations aged 36 and up, and 80% buying online (See Goldman Sachs, 2016: Millennials coming of age).

So what makes marketing to millennials different?

Millennials have grown up with technology and spend an average of 25hours online every week! According to Hubspot millennials are looking for content driven media, they’re the ones who will engage, click, like and share, so therefore ensuring content is user centric is vital (See Moraes, 2015: 8 Modern Tips for Marketing to Millennials).

So how can a company use this to their advantage?

Knowledge is power and understanding that millennials aren’t going to respond to the same communication styles of the older generations due to having grown up in a brand conscious world (Pitta, 2012) can allow marketers to rethink their marketing strategies.

While digital marketing is an obvious choice for reaching millennials, given they spend a vast amount of time online, Smith (2011) claim that is can be seen as obtrusive and therefore annoying due to the adverts and business posts interrupting their online experience.

A great example of this is pop up advertisments, due to the amount of advertisements clogging the users experience the consumer will purposefully avoid looking at the advert and potentially becoming irritated and annoyed at the brand for disrupting them (Smith, 2011).

Therefore businesses need to be smart in their digital strategies.

This is where consumer generated content comes in.

Consumer generated content or user generated content (USC) is online content made by consumers; for consumers. Think of blogs, vlogs, discussion forums and social media posts/tweets. Increasingly, marketers have been harnessing this content, allowing users to take control of their marketing, in the form of USC campaigns which most commonly utilise the # trend.

UGC can be great for driving engagement, building loyalty and generating an interest about the brand.  Due to the novelty, these digital campaigns can very quickly create a lot of interest and online buzz, further increasing awareness for your brand (See Corbett, 2015: User Generated Content Can Be Great For Your Marketing…Until It Isn’t).

Let’s look at some examples of companies that got it right;

Coca Cola: Share a Coke

Coca Cola’s #shareacoke campaign is easily one of the most popular UGC campaigns. Coke created personalised bottles with a variety of names allowing users to #shareacoke across social media. The campaign was highly successful with consumers all over the world getting involved and even including the campaign in really personal messages such as proposals or pregnancy announcements…

More than 500,000 photos were shared using the #shareacoke hashtag during the campaign, and the reason this campaign was so successful was because it reached consumers on a personal level (See Turner, 2015: What Makes the ‘Share a Coke’ Campaign So Successful?). For millennials, personalisation is highly valued and Coke’s campaign allowed them a platform to connect with friends whilst expressing themselves with individual storytelling (all whilst promoting the Coco Cola brand).

Three: Dancing Pony

As a follow up to Three’s viral ‘Dancing Pony’ advert, the brand created the ‘Pony mixer’ app. A platform that allowed users to generate their own dancing pony and encourages them share it across their social media platforms with the #danceponydance. This is another highly successful campaign with 1.5m ponies created and 95% of the content reshared (See Simpson, 2016: 10 excellent examples of user-generated content in marketing campaigns).

Again, the reason for the campaigns success was understanding the consumer. Targeting millennials with a campaign that reassures them that ‘the silly stuff matters’, reaches them on a personal level and again encourages them to like and share, thus promoting the brand name.

Unfortunately UGC can go wrong…

McDonalds: #McDStories

McDonald’s started the hashtag as a way to share the stories of the farmers who supply McDonalds. While it started out innocently it was taken over by users sharing less than positive experiences…




What went wrong here was the lack of control of the campaign. As it was launched on Twitter, McDonald’s had no way to control the content and once the hashtag took on a new meaning, they were unable to pull it back (See Corbett, 2015: User Generated Content Can Be Great For Your Marketing…Until It Isn’t).

Another consideration McDonald’s should have made is the current brand image. Back in 2013 (at the time of the campaign launch) there had been a considerable amount of negativity surrounding the brand with Jamie Oliver’s campaign against their burgers being ‘unfit for human consumption’.

Due to the nature of UGC, the general public has control over the campaign and brand, meaning timing is essential.  Combating negative press with controlled mediums before letting the public loose will help keep control and reduce the chances of the public spreading further negativity.

Finally, McDonald’s major mistake here was changing their hashtag to include their name. The hashtag was originally #MeetTheFarmers which 1. would have been less likely to be hijacked and 2. did not directly include the brand name, so that if it had been hijacked, the brand wouldn’t be associated with the negativity immediately (See Corbett, 2015:User Generated Content Can Be Great For Your Marketing…Until It Isn’t).

Overall, UGC is a great tool to market to millennials. It reaches them at a level that they appreciate, it’s centred around them and it’s far less likely to annoy them than banner ads. However, UGC is volatile and unpredictable. You need to truly know your audience and have a strong, authentic and honest brand image in order to gain positive responses as opposed to damaging reactions.


Corbett, H. (2015) User Generated Content Can Be Great For Your Marketing…Until It Isn’t. Inbound Marketing Agents [Online] Available at:

Goldman Sachs. (2016). Millennials coming of age. [Online] Available at:

Moraes, M. (2015). 8 Modern Tips for Marketing to Millennials. Hubspot.[Online] Available at:

Pitta, D & Taken Smith, K. (2012). Longitudinal study of digital marketing strategies targeting Millennials. Journal of Consumer Marketing29(2), 86-92.

Simpson, J. (2016). 10 excellent examples of user-generated content in marketing campaigns. Econsultancy. [Online] Available at:

Spenner, P. (2014). Inside the Millennial Mind: The Do’s & Don’ts of Marketing to this Powerful Generation. Forbes. [Online] Available at:

Smith, K. T. (2011). Digital marketing strategies that Millennials find appealing, motivating, or just annoying. Journal of Strategic Marketing19(6), 489-499.

Turner, E. (2015). What Makes the ‘Share a Coke’ Campaign So Successful? [Online] Available at:




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