A few weeks ago I was shown a presentation by Adam Conover entitled “Millennials Don’t Exist!” that changed the way I think about generations. His presentation offers a humorous counter argument to the widely held stereotype of the millennial. In this post, I’ll share my reactions to his presentation, discuss the place of generational stereotypes in marketing, give you some of my biggest takeaways from Adam’s talk and give you the link to the video of his presentation to form your own opinion.
We’ve all seen it: pundits and news publications shouting from the rooftops that millennials are self absorbed and outrageously idealistic, and the sea of articles about how to attract, market to, employ, manage and relate to millennials.
B2B marketers are some of the biggest purveyors of the millennial craze. Marketers are always looking for better ways to segment and communicate to their target audience and have accepted the millennial stereotype and other generational labels with open arms. Marketers use these stereotypes to develop buyer personas to help companies better understand their target audience.
Millennial, gen xer, baby boomer; these labels aren’t all bad. Many argue that they can provide some helpful insights. Heck, one of MLT Creative’s most viewed posts looks at the differences in communication between millennials, gen xers and baby boomers.
But, are these stereotypes always helpful? Or can they actually get in the way, becoming reductionist and oversimplifying incredibly diverse groups of people?
That is what Adam Conover addresses in his poignant presentation. He argues that the stereotypes of millennials and generational labels as a whole are inaccurate, and actually make it harder to understand people.
If you haven’t heard of Adam Conover, he’s a comedian that got his start on the Youtube Channel College Humor and now appears on truTV. He stars in a series called “Adam Ruins Everything” where, he debunks common beliefs and explains commonly misunderstood phenomena like “Why Wine Snobs Are Faking It” “Why You Should Tell Coworkers Your Salary” and “Why Most Internships Are Actually Illegal.”
Like his other videos, his presentation is pretty hilarious, but backed up with research. While Adam is a comedian and not a professional market researcher, I think he offers some much needed context and a healthy counter argument to the whole millennial/generational label craze.
Adam makes more than a few good points about the millennial label and generations as a whole.
1) All generational labels are made up
Adam shows this generational chart and points out that the horizontal lines mapping the number of births throughout the 20th century is based on data, while the vertical lines are simply made up. “Gen X” was coined by novelist Douglas Copeland and “Millennial” coined by Neil Howe and William Strauss.
2) Language used to describe millennials isn’t new
The first economist, a Greek named Hesiod was the first person to talk about generations. Hesiod is quoted saying:
“They only care about frivolous things. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly… impatient of restraint.”
These sentiments are all too familiar. Adam goes on to show that this is the exact kind of language that was used by older people to describe baby boomers, gen xers and now millennials.
3) Millennials don’t fit their stereotype
The stereotypes of millennials are that they are entitled and don’t want to put in the work necessary to achieve their high ideals. Adam points out some statistics that challenge this:
- There are 8 millennials in the MLB that can pitch over 100 miles and hour, while 30 years ago there was only 1 (Nolan Ryan).
- Millennial Michael Phelps holds the record for most gold medals in the Olympics
- Chess grandmasters have doubled in the last generation
- Classical music pieces that were thought to be impossible are now regularly played by young performers (The New Yorker)
One of the only things you can say about millennials as a whole that is true is that they are extremely diverse:
42% of millennials identify as non-white (twice as many as baby boomers), 15% of millennials are first generation immigrants and the population identifying as hispanic has tripled.
These are just a few of the points that Adam makes. Give the full video a look. It’s worth it I promise.