Op-Ed: Dear Brands, Stop Trying To Be Millennial. Love, A Millennial.

By Maria Pianelli, originally posted on the LaunchSquad blog

14580791047_9d0e271c04_b (1)There are certain moments that stick with you.

The surreal: Where were you during the moon landing?
The tragic: Where were you when Zayn left One Direction?
The controversial: Where were you during #DeflateGate?

And then there’s the plain absurd. Where were you when emoji marketing became a thing? If the answer is Mars or some distant galaxy deprived of baffled Twitter feeds, let me hit pause. In the last year, marketers have decided to embrace their inner college freshman and amp up their emoji game. You can catch these babies everywhere — in website URLs, branded tweets, even separate apps.

But the mother of all campaigns came in June when Chevy announced its 2016 Chevrolet Cruze, GM in a press release comprised solely of emojis.

In other words:

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 8.45.23 AM

Let me be straight with you — I work in PR. I write the occasional press release. I read the occasional press release. And even on a good day, some of those bad boys are hard to read through when they’re written in English. Was Chevy’s edgy release going to reveal in-depth details about its new car? No, but even I’ll admit it was a brilliant PR stunt. Without those little cartoon hearts and smileys, I doubt Chevy would have received the press it did. Kudos Chevy, you raised the stakes, broke the Internet and proved some things are better expressed the old fashion way.

Which is why I was shocked when I saw this under the headline “New Anti-Drug Campaign Thinks Emojis Will Finally Get Teens To Listen.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 8.45.32 AMAt 22, admittedly I’m not a teen, which may be why I stared at this for a solid three minutes before deciphering the Holy Grail of PSAs. The floodgates were opened and thanks to the groundwork set by Coca Cola, Burger King and Chevy, emoji marketing had become one of the hottest new trends. That’s when it hit me: just because you can (sort of) communicate via emoji doesn’t mean it’s effective. Just because a millennial casually embraces something doesn’t mean a brand should.

First off all, it’s not cool. Acting too much like a millennial is a sure-fire way to alienate a millennial. It’s a throwback to middle school, when everyone was overusing abbreviations on AIM until someone’s grandma says “IDK my BFF Jill”and everyone jumps ship. Once I hit 9th grade I was back to typing full sentences and the only ones using shortcuts were Mom and Dad.

When a brand picks up a stereotype of a generation, no matter how small, they’re suddenly making a massive generalization. If Brand X thinks all millennials are selfie-crazed, emoji-loving and “bae”-obsessed, their marketing strategy probably isn’t going to work.Instead of trying to fit a cookie-cutter mold, take the time to adopt a strategy that makes sense for your brand. Don’t just pour emojis onto the page because that’s what this brand and that brandare doing. Ask yourself — does this dial back to your mobile or social goals? Are you creating authentic, unique content truly personalized to your fans?

Millennials are important. I get it. America alone has 80 million of us — an estimated $200 billion in annual buying power. Now that I’ve finally been flung head-first into adulthood, I’m honored, actually, that brands are taking the time to identify my interests. But I don’t want to be typecast.

Back in December, @BrandsSayingBae made a splash in the ad trades for shaming companies that were quick to toss slang like “bae” and “on fleek” around Twitter. This knight’s noble mission? To get brands to cut it out. If you want to tweet these, uh, cruder terms every once in awhile in appropriate situations, fine, but if you’re really looking to catch millennials’ eyes, adopt some of the qualities we feel strongly about.

Millennials have a bad rap for being flighty and smartphone-obsessed. We’re condemned as the “Selfie Generation,” more interested in updating our Snapchat Stories than we are religion. It’s easy to villainize millennials as narcissistic or fame-obsessed and cater solely to the stereotypes that are thrown around in the media. But that’s taking the easy way out. The brands that work to understand millennials on a deeper basis are the ones that will resonate most.

Did you know millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable products and are twice as likely to care whether their food is organic? We’re also more concerned with political and ethical issues than your average shopper; 4 in 5 of us are more willing to purchase from brands that support our favorite causes. Many millennials shy from corporate America, with 40% preferring to shop local, even if these goods were more expensive than the mass market. We believe in transparency and authenticity — tell us the truth. We’re willing to listen to what you have to say, but we want to know our voice matters too.

The way to our hearts isn’t by projecting stereotypes, it’s by respecting our perspective and finding a way to share in these values in a way that’s both honest and true to your brand. The bottom line is this: It’s important to know your audience and, when applicable, you should cater to their social preferences. But brands, by all means be yourselves. We’ll like you. I promise.

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