Millennials – the future of media?

Rachel Taylor, Strategic Manager, shares her views on the IAB Engage Conference.
For me, this year’s IAB Engage conference emphasised the pace at which media is changing. While mobile is storming onto the scene, even it might not be moving as fast as the Millennials themselves.
I find this topic particularly interesting as I’m part of the ‘youth’ demographic myself. Chris Dobson (CEO, The Exchange Lab) broke down the Millennial demographic, emphasising the huge range of media experience and preferences within this 16-34 age bracket.
His view was that Millennials should be limited to the 16-24 bracket. This age range have always been the drivers of change but Chris posited that this time these changing attitudes might have a permanent effect on the way media is consumed. Indeed, while my behaviour may be the same as my parents – reaching out to friends to catch up – I value my data over ‘phone credit’ as What’s App hosts the majority of my conversations.
But as an individual who squeaks into this younger bracket, do I agree with this portrayal of my peers? I may not be best placed to judge as I would not claim to use media in the same way as a 16 year old; nonetheless, some of the changes do resonate. I only have the Facebook Messenger app, leaving much of the rest of Facebook functionality superfluous in my life. I also lean towards brands who give something back, be that a social purpose or just the effort of creating something which is funny.
Chris Dobson listed his six key rules for engaging Millennials:

  1. Content should be longer than 5 seconds
  2. Native is king
  3. Give something back
  4. Merge all formats and channels for a seamless experience
  5. Use data responsibly
  6. Well targeted but not over targeted

I fully agree with all of these points particularly the need for more native, or at least subtle content. This preference is supported by our online behaviour, Chris showed a graph which used eye tracking software to illustrate where 16-24s look on web pages – we almost completely ignore the right hand ad units which previously sat in attention hot spots, focusing instead on the bulk of the content.
However, our cynicism means that this native content needs to appears authentic. It came as no surprise that 33% of 16-24s look for recommendations from blogs (a proxy for a personal recommendation) rather than the 3% who will turn to magazines. Not only that, our attention spans have now dropped to less than that of a goldfish (down to 8 seconds whereas goldfish have an attention span of 9!). Therefore, an advertiser needs to be fully present and relevant in my online world if they are to avoid the ‘it’s an ad, move on’ reaction.
I was also interested in Emi Gal’s (CEO, Teads Studio) presentation on how AI bots are a reality for advertisers with chat bots moving us towards a future of ‘conversational advertising’. It seems odd to consider a chat bot being capable of authenticity, so perhaps we are at a dividing moment. I can see how AI streamlines processes and makes it far easier for individuals to access information and brands to convert sales. Certainly if they drove $100million in sales on Singles Day in 2015 they are being effective. However, I am not sure that this will equate to any increased brand influence over young people. If nothing, the growth of Snapchat and Instagram shows a trend away from conversation towards image based communication which has become a more intuitive language for this audience.
Mark Read (CEO, Wunderman) theorised that Snapchat might even be the new challenger to Google and Facebook. While it would be nice to see more players in the market, I believe that Snapchat’s greatest test is still in front of them. Young people have proven notorious for leaving platforms as soon as they are no longer considered cool. So as advertisers begin to enter Snapchat we will have to wait and see if the image messaging culture is a strong enough draw to buck this trend.
Instead perhaps we should consider giving young people ownership for the platforms themselves. Caitlin Moran made a fantastic point in her fireside chat, in this case referring to women but relevant nonetheless, that there are some things which white Christian men will never invent and that the platforms hosting the messaging will always determine the form of the messaging itself. Certainly there have to be limits, as the creators of Microsoft’s ‘Tay’ are all too aware, but I agree that the best way to appeal is to get young people involved shaping the conversation and space.
After all, if you’re only a couple of years out of university and you’re already finding new apps through active research rather than having them part of your everyday experience (like me), then I agree with Chris; this generation of young people is moving faster than ever before and the media world has some catching up to do.
However, I would also argue that this speed may not be as alienating as it may appear to some clients. We do settle into work routines and legacy brands based on my parents purchasing habits still have appeal. There are human truths amidst the technology chaos and hopefully mobile can break through the myriad of technological developments to be a companion, quietly pushing brands towards existing millennial behaviour.