Thursday, December 4, 2008

Can Companies Speak on Behalf of Gen-Y?

Who speaks on behalf of Gen-Y?photo by herzogbr

Everyone is trying to market to Gen-Y. Why? Because contrary to this whole we're in a recession thing, Gen-Y is still spending money, buying new cars, securing jobs, starting companies, getting promotions, drinking at bars and buying new clothes/shiny things.

We all know that the problem most companies are having is being authentic to Gen-Y. Having a voice that is actually a part of this generation, that lives and breathes mainstream, urban and underground culture. Someone like Joel from Pancheros. They are going all in and it is working. He is engaging, he is informative and he brings a character and face to Pancheros that resonates with Gen-Y, and yet, even reaches X'ers and Boomers.

Yet, even in reading a Gen-Y marketing book by a team I really respect, they tend to generalize Gen-Y too much. In fact we all do. And that is tough when you are looking for a "spokesperson" to speak to Gen-Y.

The reality is that we grew up on MTV. Doesn't matter if you are a prep or a jock or a nerd, you knew about MTV and what was going on. What MTV did was a complete mash-up of youth culture. TRL, the only music staple that was left at MTV (and even though I'm old and haven't watched in years, I'm sad to see it go), mashed up the best in pop, rock and hip-hop and even got country to go pop (Taylor Swift anyone?).

The reality is that at my high school (in suburban South Florida), I played football, baseball, volleyball and surfed on the weekends, dated a girl Student Government, rapped in a group called the Burglazz (don't deny that the boy got skills), worked 20 hours, partied with everyone from every race and age and got good grades. The thing is, so did most everyone at my school.

The reality is that we grew up where race is not an issue. There was no segregation for Gen-Y growing up. I am not saying that racial tension is a non-issue, just that it is now more of a choice and in underground culture. If anything there is a cultural difference as more and more people from more and more backgrounds start to get interested in the same topics. Our country is the biggest mash-up of cultures in the world, where anyone from any background, culture, color or schooling can get ahead and make a difference for their own lives and that of the people around them.

The reality is that the same kids that listen to hip-hop in the burbs are watching political videos on YouTube and the same girl that just moved here from India is buying Rock & Republic Jeans from Nordstrom.

So who is a Gen-Y Spokesperson?
I read a post from the Social Citizens blog about this same topic titled, "Is Kanye our Kurt?" The writer got the title from a Twitter question asking, "Who is Gen-Y's Kurt Cobain?" The author doesn't suggest that Kanye is our Kurt, but does suggest that our voice may be crowd sourced.

With information available so freely and the ability to put thoughts out everywhere, at any time - is the Gen-Y voice cluttered and drown out? Do sites like Brazen Careerist go back and generalize our voice - or speak for only a portion of our Generation, that of the overachiever, career oriented, go-getter? Are we too young to define a voice?

If we keep generalizing, how then, do companies find the authenticity that will break through to this generation and make them buy, click, react, talk and feel?

By being yourself.
By inviting Gen-Y in to see what your company is really like, not the perception that your overpaid PR agency told you to look like.

That is hard to say coming from the guy running the agency, but its the truth. When things suck, you need to talk about it. When things are great, you need to talk about it. When someone has a question, give an honest answer, the one that is dying to come off your tongue, because if it doesn't come from your tongue, it will come from someone else's. And Gen-Y will find out and make decisions about your brand, or even worse, make no decisions about your brand like you do not exist.

Get back on track Greg
So then, if brands are looking to target Gen-Y, who should talk for them? Hiring a musician or an actor, celebrity or community figure may help you sell a product today, but a long term strategy for winning Gen-Y is to be true to your brand, true to your beliefs and not being shy about who you are.

You can be a surfer, musician, nerd or whatever else you want to be as long as it is you. That is the spokesperson that is going to win over Gen-Y.

Who do you think is doing a good job of being a Gen-Y spokesperson?

-Greg Rollett


Joel Johnson December 4, 2008 at 9:15 PM  

Hey G-Ro,

Thanks for the shout. I definitely won't claim to know it all, or even most of it, or even what "it" is, but there definitely is something to this whole "listening and being yourself." That's nothing new, but maybe it's time to take it to heart. My job is to be a listener first and a talker second; that seems to work well thus far. There is definitely more than what the surface shows when it comes to this generation. Thanks for shedding some light.

Joel Johnson
Social Media Manager
Panchero's Mexican Grill

geoff December 5, 2008 at 6:43 AM  

I was just thinking this last night. One of the stodgy news folks were sitting down, doing a filler piece on "The advertising wars" between Progresso Soup and Campbell's taking place, now that the economy is in the tank and everyone is so poor they are eating canned soup.

The PR lozenge was sitting there, stupid red power suit on her chunky frame, stupid fake red puffy hair violating gravity and sense above her head, pursed mouth saying meaningless words about how Campbell's soup is doing business status quo, and that we are verging on an exciting paradigm shift in the liquid consumables markets, where many exciting nutritious options are being enjoyed by exciting new individuals, in an effort to take advantage blah blah blah.

The question was: Campbell's Vs. Progresso - Sup wit dat?

The answer, from a company truly wishing to appeal to today's market, should have come out like The Rock cutting a promo on a jabroni. There is no longer room for pleasantries delivered by bad hair. We are in the process of pulling back the curtain more and more every day, and any company demanding that we pay no attention to the man behind such is deluded themselves out of customers.

The funniest, the truthiest, the most efficient (or slick, the two rarely go hand in hand, but when they do, bonus)... These are the people that will win Gen-Y dollars. Or votes. Or fans.

geoff December 5, 2008 at 6:44 AM  

deluding, even

Greg Rollett December 5, 2008 at 6:47 AM  

Geoff - It's funny how something like a soup company can be so guarded and scared of being themselves that they sound like a robot to ensure there is no backlash. Instead of talking to me/you/the public like a person, who makes mistakes, has opinions and a trust factor, we get red suit and blah, blah, blah.

Good point my friend! Have a great weekend!

Greg Rollett December 5, 2008 at 6:50 AM  


At least you have been given the go ahead to create a stance, an opinion and the freedom to make a difference in your brand. There is a big war over Americanized Mexican food, and by stepping out and talking to us, it gives you great access to becoming a leader in the space. Don't let up and don't stop learning.

Joel Johnson December 8, 2008 at 6:55 AM  

Thanks Greg,

I'll keep the learning coming. There's plenty out there to be learned! Thanks again for the encouragement.

Anonymous December 8, 2008 at 10:44 AM  

It is hard to define a "spokesperson" for Gen Y, partially because we've grown up speaking for ourselves. There are more outlets than ever for us to speak our minds. If you look at the popularity of not just social networking sites, but personal blogs, twitter, youtube. We've been told from an early age to speak your mind (remembering that many of our parents are products of the 60s).

From this stems another so-called defining attribute of Gen Y: individualism. Obviously, we heed the call to our families and communities (after all, our generation logs more hours of community service than any other previous generation), but it seems that we enjoy an even stronger need for individualized expression of our uniqueness than previous generations. This, combined with more opportunities for expression, leads us to this question.

"Do we need a spokesperson?" Probably not. Even more intriguing, "Can we really have an adequate spokesperson?" Again, probably not. With diversity being one of the defining attributes, it's difficult to find individuals who bridge all gaps.

Greg Rollett December 8, 2008 at 1:42 PM  

I really tend to agree with everyone that a consensus spokesperson for Gen-Y is not possible or relevant.

However, brands and companies still need to speak to us. Guess that'll be the next post!

Chris G. December 8, 2008 at 8:33 PM  

I feel that a Gen-Y spokesperson does not necessarily have to be born in the Gen-Y themselves. It just needs to be an individual who can motivate and move Gen-Yers in masses. Great spokespersons on behalf of Gen-Y to my opinion are Bono and Barack Obama. Yes, I said Bono and Barack Obama. The two of them have motivated and gathered so many Gen-Y individuals into their campaigns. Bono did a phenomenal job with ONE Campaign and (RED). He has been in the music scene for three decades now, and he is still getting you people involved in becoming more educated and more active in their community & local governments. Barack Obama – check the last post on G-Ro’s blog. That’s all I need to say about that. A spokesperson for a generation is someone whom that generation looks up to, and Bono and Barack Obama are great mentors for Gen-Y.

Chris G.

Matt December 9, 2008 at 10:47 AM  

Though I can't speak to whether there exists a single spokesperson for the Gen-Y crowd, I have found some recent marketing campaigns that I think carry some weight.

For one, I think the new Gap ads featuring SNL stars, other young celebs, and their children are pretty appealing to a younger crowd. I know that I laughed when I saw Rainn Wilson's angry face bundled in a winter hat and scarf.

I think as the world becomes increasingly connected, companies will have to work even harder to stay relevant. This Gap campaign speaks to me because the people are immediately identifiable and relatable.

Greg Rollett December 12, 2008 at 7:41 AM  

@Matt - I am going to have to look at those, thanks for the heads up and thanks for stopping by!!

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