Marketing to Millennials-What Works

How do you reach millennials? Understanding what potential customers want and will buy is an important business strategy. This case study examines the buying power of teens and identifies their musical preferences. Unique characteristics and peer pressure influence Generation Y’s purchases. Predicting what teens will buy may be an art, not a science.

Facts about Gen Y

✔ Ages 14-21, over 32 million strong
✔ Teens spent $185 billion in 2015
(Teenage Research Unlimited)
✔ Top attribute teens associate with
a cool brand: quality
(Zollo, Wise Up to Teens)
✔ More than 80% of teens say it’s
cool to be smart
(2014 Roper Youth Report)
✔ Teen girls, ages 15-18, desire to be
an average of three years older than
they are (TRU, Fall 2014)

Musical fads come and go, but Generation Y — not the record biz — controls the spin. Generation Y, that rising tide of moneyed minors poised to wrest pop culture from baby boomers, is in the throes of puppy love.

Since the rise of the Spice Girls in 1997, kids have cast their adoring ears and ample allowances toward the bouncy sounds of ‘N Sync, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and the Backstreet Boys. But Cupid’s arrow is fated to point elsewhere once these youngsters reach puberty.

”It always seems to be a two- or three-year cycle,” says Kim Cooper, editor of fanzine Scram and co-editor of Bubblegum Music Is the Naked Truth, a book due in early spring.

”Bubblegum may be more calculated than ever with this factory in Orlando,” she says, referring to Florida Svengali Louis Pearlman, who shaped Backstreet, ‘N Sync and up-and-coming O-Town. ”And there are more people grooming artists and feeding off them. But fans of this music are going to get into harder stuff once they get angrier and the hormones get going.”

For now, bubblegum reigns as never before. Don’t ask why. Ask Y. Today’s chart feats and flops are dictated by the offspring of the post-World War II baby boom. ‘N Sync holds the record for opening-week album sales: 2.41 million, almost doubling the record of 1.1 million set by the Backstreet Boys (who could reclaim the honor with a third album due Nov. 21).

Gen Y’s leading edge, already teens, accounts for the rise of such rap and rock acts as Eminem, Limp Bizkit, and Kid Rock. The lagging edge, 12 and under, slurps up the syrupy hits of boy bands and pop tarts. Together they wield unprecedented influence on the marketplace.

”There’s never been more attention paid to a specific generation,” says Dave Adelson, executive editor of Hits. ”This generation has a voracious appetite, and the record companies are happy to satiate it. Kids are being bombarded with more and more types of media designed for their demographic, with some marketing plans targeting 5-year olds.”

Pipsqueak pop became ubiquitous with the explosion of kiddie media. Boomers relied on radio, Gen Xers got the added visuals of MTV, and Gen Y has it all — a vast Internet supply of fan Web sites and downloadable songs, Radio Disney (in 45 cities and at, and music fare on Nickelodeon, Fox Family, Disney, pay-per-view, and cable.

While demographers debate cut-off dates, most calculations place Gen Y, those born from 1992 to 2005, at 79 million, or about 27% of the U.S. population. By 2020, the 12- to-20 age bracket will expand to a historic peak of 35 million. Baby boomers number 77 million (and shrinking), and puny Generation X, born between 1979 and 1992, weighs in at an estimated 40 million, or 16%.

The Y bumper crop, also called echo boomers and millennials, outspends all previous generations. Market research says they’re tech-savvy, coddled, optimistic, prone to abrupt shifts in tastes and tough to pigeonhole.

Boomers embroiled in civil rights battles, antiwar protests, and sexual liberation launched a rock revolution in the ’60s. Gen X, mired in a depressed economy, turned to angry, brooding grunge. Gen Y, marinating in financial fitness, fancies peppy pop.

The prevalence of kiddie ditties is no surprise, considering ”we have peacetime, a booming economy, and no functioning counterculture,” notes Alan Light, editor in chief of Spin. ”But all these 14-year-olds won’t be 14 forever. When the bubble is parked at 17 or 18, what they’ll need from music will be very different.”