Ronald McDonald looks into the stands from the court.
Ronald McDonald looks into the stands from the court. - 
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At Leo Burnett, the Chicago-based ad agency ranked 9th in the world, most meetings mention millennials. Mick McCabe, chief strategy officer at Leo Burnett, says that Millennials are "the topic du jour," and it shows in the agency's ads. 

Leo Burnett works with McDonald's, Coke, Allstate, Nintendo, Samsung and esurance. In recent years, their ads have introduced themes and characters meant to appeal to a younger audience, building status for newer brands that already skew young and revitalizing advertising for legacy brands. 

McCabe says that Millennials are a crucial audience for all kinds of brands. This group of roughly 80 million 18-34 year-olds spends billions of dollars. And it's a unique group, too: "It is the most diverse generation ever, very tolerant, very open," McCabe says. 

"For marketers, the reason they're such a profound part of the conversation is that they represent what the future looks like," McCabe says, "and so companies can either succeed or fail as they succeed and fail with Millennials."

McCabe says there's an obsession with having conversations with Millennials, and with "what technology they're using ... what's imporant to them, how to connect with them, how to, frankly, develop them as customers for long periods of time."

Research has shown that Millennials like to make purchases that make them feel good about themselves and want to be spoken with, not to. McCabe says these qualities are very human, and so "the things that they want, to connect with people, to have their voice heard, to be authentic, to laugh, to change the world for better, are very indigenous to this group as they are to all human beings." 

"What's different [about Millennials]," McCabe says, "is their embrace of technology allows them to, in a much more intense way, access those emotions, access their voice being heard."

Leo Burnett tries to tap into this mentality with multi-platform ads that involve social — or social network — interaction. One particular ad, a campaign for Always called #LikeAGirl, had millions of views on YouTube and sparked conversations on Twitter before it aired as a Super Bowl commercial. 

 

Another notable ad for Allstate used its "Mayhem" character in an interactive ad — Allstate found a real couple who was oversharing on public social media and sold replicas of their belongings at MayhemSale.com while they were out of the house. 

McCabe says that when marketing to Millennials, timing is key. This is a generation that wants to be spoken to authentically. McCabe says that it's crucial to "speak with the right note, with the right subject, at the right time ... they want it when they want it."

Part of this has to do with mobile advertising — Millennials, and anyone else with a smartphone and other internet-connected devices, are innundated with ads. So what sticks out are things that have a more personal or contextual touch. 

If it sounds a little mushy and emotional, maybe that's because it is. But McCabe says the emotional outreach isn't just about money. "The health of a company ... depends on them having real connections with Millennials. If they have a fake connection with them, they won't grow."