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What do marketers think millennials want?

Tony Wagner Jul 2, 2016

Every time a fast food chain tries to be like Chipotle, or Hamburger Helper puts out a mixtape, or AMC thinks about letting theater-goers text, someone is trying to appeal to millennials. That means a lot of companies are making a lot of assumptions about what this giant, desirable, well-dissected group of 18-to-34-year-olds want. Or, put another way:

Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re laughably bad. I’ve fact-checked some of these assumptions before, and in the past month there’s been some doozies. In my journey toward becoming a $20,000 an hour millennial branding consultant, I’ve rated them on a scale from one (completely bogus) to five snowboarders (totally checks out).

Millennials love to lease luxury cars

This one has layers. It starts from a possibly false premise: millennials don’t drive. Many people have observed young adults are buying fewer cars, but a propensity for ride-sharing and transit might be more of an economic necessity than a lifestyle choice.

At any rate, they’re buying cars now and this baffling story from ABC news claims they love luxury rides. Evidence? Bentley says millennials make up 8 percent of its purchases. Never mind they’re a huge group and the average age of a Bentley buyer is still 53. Other people in charge of making luxury car brands desirable, like marketing and sales people, agreed that millennials love their products. Go figure.

Millennials want gritty reboots of their favorite ’90s TV shows…

Lionsgate announced last month that Bryan Cranston would play Zordon — the 10,000-year-old interdimensional wizard who mentors the Power Rangers via a big glass tube — in 2017’s reboot of the 1990s TV show.

This probably says something depressing about the way Hollywood works now — churning through IP to find the next sustainable mega-franchise. Also, their updated armor makes the Rangers look like problematic Iron Mans.

But you know what? Cranston is such a great actor and a weird choice (to stay nothing of Elizabeth Banks, who’s playing Rita Repulsa) that I’m cautiously optimistic. I grew up watching Power Rangers, so maybe this pandering will actually pay off for Lionsgate.

…And their favorite ’90s drinks

Pepsi announced this week it’s bringing back Crystal Pepsi, the early ’90s fad soda, for eight weeks this year. If the play for millennial nostalgia wasn’t clear enough (ha), AdAge noted the company is making its own version of “Oregon Trail” in which players collect Furbies, pagers, bucket hats and “Double Dare” host Marc Summers. A Pepsi marketing exec says it’s “a very authentic way to talk to these guys that are so into the 1990s.” Fair enough!

Not to be outdone, rival Coca-Cola has revived its ’90s soda Surge and Hi-C Ecto Cooler to promote the new “Ghostbusters” movie. The latter only disappeared from stores in 2001, though some have reported the new stuff is tough to find.

Millennials like their cereal “wholesome” and “on-trend”

You would think launching a breakfast cereal is a four-quadrant thing. Not so! General Mills’ senior marketing manager told CBSthat Tiny Toast, its first new cereal brand in 15 years, is aimed at “young adults,” like the kind of adults aged 19 to 34, for example. Eater notes that fancy toast is hot right now and General Mills has been working to get corn syrup, artificial flavors and colors out of its products. One thing working against Tiny Toast though: a recent survey said millennials find it inconvenient.

I’m not one of those, nor did I know any of that when I bought a box of Tiny Toast, and don’t think it would have convinced me to. But I did anyway, so maybe it worked? Anyway, it tasted fine.

Millennials want reasonably priced organic groceries

Who knew?! Whole Foods opened its first 365 store in Los Angeles this spring. It’s a stripped-down version of Whole Foods that’s priced reasonably and pitched at millennials. I’m happy to report that the final product was filled with shoppers of all ages and no tattoo parlors — though there was a sign reading “free air guitars” outside.

But I’m willing to overlook that because I thought 365 was great. It turns out, making a good grocery store is pretty simple. Though this one was no doubt built on exhaustive research, you just need a modest selection of organic food, a bright clean space and reasonable prices.

A coworker told me while he was shopping there, an employee opened a bag of popcorn in the middle of the store as a laid-back, free sample. He ended up buying the bag. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

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