From Millennials to Centennials...

I must be missing something. The world is moving too fast, again, just like it did last week, and the week before. In the world of advertising, it can be especially difficult to stay on top anything new, considering the sheer amount of content that’s produced on a daily basis. The overload I experienced firsthand this morning was an example of just that. I was briefing through Ad Age, per usual, and noticed the top article. “Stung by Millennial Misses, Brands Retool for Gen Z.” Uh-oh, here we go, another rant about how us ‘millennials’ are causing brands to go nuts because we’re not chucking our wallets at them. Cue the delayed to-do list.

I began thinking, “What the hell happened with millennials’ this time?” I thought we were all the rage these days…nope. News flash instead: millennials have left the building!

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Oh, geez…I thought all brands in the advertising game were still figuring out how to get millennials to open our wallets? Guess not. I took the click bait and pressed on. Thoroughly captivated after the first few paragraphs, I had to brush up with Google for the proper definitions of ‘millennial’ and ‘centennial.’ Let me share with you what I found.

Millennial– According to Wikipedia, a millennial (also known as Gen Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates when the generation starts and ends, but researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. Millennials are often up to date with new media tactics, and are shying away from the suburbs for more populated areas and searching often for quality over quantity in life, having children later and are focused on corporate responsibility.

(I fall into the above category, but often disagree with the vast generalizations of who millennials are and what they want).

Centennial– People who were born around the turn of the century. Mostly 13-18 year olds now. Dubbed ‘Generation Z’ these permit holding youths are practical and value-conscious, who relish experiences and use the enormous amount of information at their disposal to unearth unique stories. Could be labeled as ‘needing’ technology to get through daily life.

Here’s a small infographic to help outline the differences.

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Ok. Got it. But why are brands chasing 13 year olds? Then it hit me. It was painfully obvious; they’re smarter and more fluid when it comes to technology and likely to be swayed and buy into brands for life at that age. I thought of my almost 16 year old brother who is far more tuned in to tech and the way it’s used to gather info, share and spread messages. He consumes much more media (almost triple the amount daily) than I’m capable of at age 25. I just don’t have the patience for it. I grew up playing team sports and running around in the woods in my spare time. It was only slightly before my high school graduation that I even had a cell phone, let alone a smart phone. These days, children are born not with a silver spoon, but a smartphone, tablet and are raised on the internet. This provides a massive opportunity for marketers and advertisers to capture the attention of Gen Z.

Born in 1989, and consistent user of Google and a grand total of four apps on my smartphone, this realization hit me in the gut, making me feel like a cheap 80’s Oldsmobile that was just dumped in a salvage yard for that cooler, new five-star safety rated sedan named ‘Gen Z.’ What the hell advertisers? I want to be marketed to, made to feel important and want you to compete for my attention and money! Apparently millennials were the bee’s knees, until now, but brands are turning away from us, for the newer, more freshly minted, “Centennials.”

But why? Let’s review.

Advertisers and marketers alike were caught off by the blistering pace at which technology set off new culture trends amidst ten years ago at the start of ‘Gen Y.’ The same thing happened to Generation X when it was passed off on for ‘Millennials.’ The millennial age gap of 21-35 year olds are now being passed over to capitalize on the growing group of ‘centennials’ who are more likely privy to knowing the truth and smarter with new technologies. Umm, have you heard how brands are leveraging Periscope and Meerkat yet? Maybe, but in most cases, even if you have, you’re not the targeted demographic anymore. Unless you’re part of ‘Gen Z.’

Here they are, Generation Z, the 13-18 year-old age group primed to absorb thousands of ads, media and commercials as they descend down through their multiple screens. “Centennials” are in fact the new demographic target of advertisers and marketers alike.

I gotta say, I saw this coming. My SoundCloud kept repeating ads of a fuzzy Taco Bell commercial which you’ve probably heard by now called, “Breakfast Defectors” that parodies George Orwell’s book ‘1984.’ Taco Bell clearly takes aim at McDonald’s breakfast in their short film and I gotta say, I completely missed the point. Having never eaten breakfast at McDonald’s or let alone Taco Bell, I could only wonder, “Was this campaign aimed at me?” The answer is a most definite no. It’s aimed at customers most likely (and easily) to be hooked for a long time, thus being the 13-18 age group. These “centennials” who have no concept of what a triple bypass surgery will potentially feel like, but do have a quick attention span, a couple bucks and a set of four wheels.

Check out the full spot below. I didn’t even know there was a ‘Generation Breakfast?’

As a millennial, I got the clear adaptation from Orwell’s book and the commercial was filmed great, but it left me wondering… Have these centennials even caught on to the 1984 reference? Is it still required reading in high school? Or is it just a counter-culture movement that Taco Bell is trying to start here? Regardless, TB is rolling out a huge wave of ads to gain the attention of future; “Breakfast Defectors” and I wouldn’t be surprised if it were working extremely well. They must have done their research and their insights team cued up a great idea first originated by Apple in the 80’s.

In short, I realized millennial marketing is dead, or at the very least appears to be on the decline. Onto the more youthful, fact-finding, attention waning centennials willing to spend their bits of money and sign onto brands, as long as their message is cool enough. McDonalds has always been a classic American brand, but that doesn’t mean centennials buy into it. Big brands like Taco Bell are vying for centennials to become lifelong consumers through trendy and hip campaigns, not just brand values anymore. I mean, the spot ends with the tagline “The Next Generation of Breakfast.”, how much more transparent can it get?

Let the counter-culture revolution begin. Whole Foods is opening a smaller, cheaper chain of grocery stores, The Hamburglar is back and more hipster than ever, Colonel Sanders was just revived from the dead to appear in another series of commercials for KFC and Taco Bell is aiming it’s marketing to newly licensed drivers. It seems every marketer in between will be positioning themselves to counter the mainstream, trying to form underground followings, but will secretly be vying for bigger profit margins.

I’m not claiming to be an expert here, but I do see an emerging trend and thought it would be interesting to share my thoughts. The new wave of marketing and advertising is already integrating new technology to capture the hearts and minds of Generation Z, whether they know it or not (Again see the apps MEERKAT and PERISCOPE). But alas, centennials won’t be easy to hook, at least right off the bat. They will have to sift through 3-4 times as much content as Generation Y is currently used to.

With more brands being on social media and more advertisers/marketers fighting for their attention, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for people to establish real connections. Not just with each other, but also with companies, despite the ease and connectivity of today’s world.

My prediction is also that centennials will mimic after millennials frugalness and will notice their struggles of moving out their parents homes, finding work as well as moving into urban centers. But by being more savvy in the digital field, they will be fully captivated by brands and drawn to companies doing cool things (See Bud Light’s ‘Whatever, USA campaign). Centennials will also share much more content via social and even become ambassadors from a young age for big brands they like and identify closely with.

Maybe that’s why big companies are dumping struggling millennials for the potential of Generation Z. Have you noticed when logging out of Facebook the Progessive Insurance ads clearly targeted to newly licensed drivers AKA ‘Centennials?’

Here it is to help you refresh:

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Here at INPHANTRY we’ve noticed the rising tide towards centennials. For marketers and advertisers alike, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these emerging trends.

Feel free to reach me at via email: cam@inphantry.com or on Twitter @CamKing747