STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Next, we report on marketing to millennials. If you should define that generation as everybody born between 1980 and 2000, as NPR has been doing, we're talking about 80 million people who spend, by some accounts, over $1 trillion per year. As part of our series called the New Boom, NPR's Sam Sanders wondered how brands should market themselves to that group.
SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Let's have this little circle more of a huddle. Let's get in a little bit closer 'cause we're all friends.
About 25 millennials gather in their natural habitat - right outside of an Urban Outfitters - yeah, I know, the ultimate hipster millennial cliche.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Is that on after "Girl Meets World?"
SANDERS: This was NPR's first-ever millennial focus group at an outdoor mall in Santa Monica. I wanted to know from this group, all under the age of 35, what ads, what brands, what messaging works for them. For starters, Antonus Siler said the bar was high.
ANTONUS SILER: Honestly, if I could say anything to the advertisers out there, it'd be this - it's like, you know what? - entertain me, make me happy, capture my attention, speak to my conscience and then leave me the heck alone.
SANDERS: OK, here's what they like - cute animals...
JAMES MCOMBER: It was an Ikea commercial where they just let a bunch of little cats roam around Ikea and sort of make themselves comfortable on the furniture.
SANDERS: Fun social media stuff...
CAROLINE SHARP: Lowes had a series of Vines called Six-Second How-Tos.
SANDERS: And just being direct.
GARRETT BLACK: The Brisk ads of not half bad...
(SOUNDBITE OF BRISK AD)
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: New Brisk Half & Half - not half bad.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Yeah, dude, if I was thirsty, I'd drink this.
BLACK: Everybody's trying to throw it in your face, like, this is the best thing ever. This is great. And everybody's like - nobody just admits yeah, it's pretty good. You should try it.
SANDERS: That was James McOmber, Caroline Sharp and Garrett Black. All right, here's some stuff the group hated - weird dancing animals...
MAMIE YOUNG: The Kia campaign with the hip-hop hamsters, I guess. I don't know what they are.
SANDERS: Body image issues...
KENNETH MACKINS: I'm super sick of seeing advertisements with people who are only 5'8'' to 6 feet tall and, you know, weigh a hundred and - if it's a woman, 100 pounds and if it's a man, 150.
SANDERS: And this...
SARAH HARBURG-PETRICH: A soda company was doing a commercial a few years back and they basically said that this is man diet soda and women can't apply because women are inferior.
(SOUNDBITE OF DR. PEPPER AD)
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Dr. Pepper 10. It's not for women.
HARBURG-PETRICH: It was so, so frustrating.
SANDERS: You just heard from Mamie Young, Sarah Harburg-Petrich and Kenneth Mackins. Some key takeaways - the ads this group liked were clever but subtle. They took advantage of social media with a very personal touch, and they were socially progressive and inclusive. As for the ones that didn't work, they were often, as Mamie Young said...
YOUNG: Trying so hard.
SANDERS: Some of them clung to gender roles and social views many millennials see as outdated or they had messages that seemed to leave people out. So what should we make of all this? Well, this guy can help.
AMERICUS REED II: My name is Americus Reed II, and I am a professor of marketing here at the Wharton School of Business.
SANDERS: Americus Reed helped me understand why this group liked and hated what they did. One - millennials kind of like to talk about themselves.
REED: They seek authenticity. They value self-expression, but they also like to think of themselves as not necessarily self-absorbed.
SANDERS: Two - we are do-gooders who like to be nice.
REED: There isn't a lot of negativity. The values that they're trying to align are social impact or doing good things - how do I leave the world a better place?
SANDERS: Three - a lot of us are kind of broke.
REED: I wouldn't say frugal but being aware of their spending.
SANDERS: Knowing all this, which brand is doing all of the right things?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Warby Parker.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I'm wearing Warby Parker glasses right now.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah I have four pairs of Warby's
SANDERS: You have four pairs?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Laughter).
SANDERS: Warby Parker, the online eyeglass retailer. They've hit the trifecta - they're price point is low, their product is cool and their brand has a message of social good. They give away a lot of free pairs of glasses to people in need. Neil Blumenthal, one of the founders of Warby Parker, he said it's all intentional.
NEIL BLUMENTHAL: One of the things that we're really careful to do is pass everything that we do through a brand filter.
SANDERS: You could even say Warby Parker is doing everything they can to check the boxes on the millennial branding list.
BLUMENTHAL: Is this authentic and genuine? Is there a compelling story? Is it unexpected and interesting? Does it do good in the world?
SANDERS: OK. We could just end this whole thing right there, but there was one more brand - well, a person really - who came up during our focus group.
SHARP: She's also part of a group - a growing group, I think - of celebrities who are making feminism into not a bad word anymore.
D'ANGELO: She's, like, transcended the need for traditional advertisement. Like, she's so big that she can get to people on her own.
SANDERS: Have you guessed yet?
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YONCE PARTITION")
BEYONCE: Give me something.
SANDERS: We're talking about Beyonce. That was Anthony D'Angelo and Caroline Sharp. They pointed to Beyonce's message of female empowerment and her move away from traditional advertising. Her last album came out with no advance press and no interviews, and it was still a hit. But a lot of Beyonce's appeal is that Beyonce is Beyonce, and no playbook can give you that. So perhaps the lesson, if any, for brand makers would be to do all the things we talked about, but then just do and be a little more. If at all possible, be Beyonce. Sam Sanders, resident millennial, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.