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People like to stereotype.

Men love sports. Blond women are less intelligent. Asians are good at calculus. Children don’t like eating vegetables. Brits running small business marketing companies make better lovers (see what I did there?).

Apart from the obvious racial, gender, and ageist bigotry of the above examples, making assumptions based on stereotypes is never a good look. If I get bitten by a dog, clearly I’m wrong to assume every pooch I meet in the future is going to bite me. If I get food poisoning from eating gas station sushi – never a wise decision – that doesn’t mean I’m destined to spend my life avoiding all forms of raw fish for the rest of my life.

Bad Marketers Are Stereotypers

Marketers are often the biggest culprits of stereotyping, since they confuse it with “segmentation.” In marketing, you can often get away with murder as long as you have data that supports your position. If I said to you that pink is for girls and blue is for boys, you’ll (quite rightly) brand me as an out-of-touch sexist imbecile. If, however, I showed you research where sales of pink cellphones were predominantly purchased by women, while blue ones were mostly bought by men, you’d call me an insightful marketer.

In marketing, audience segmentation underpins pretty much everything. Unless you truly know and understand your audience it’s almost impossible to present a relevant, resonant, and memorable value message.

But an audience segment isn’t “women under 50”, any more than assuming “anyone owning a dog” is a prospective customer for your canine-only taxi service with added geo-location, chatbot, and augmented reality app.

There’s No Such Thing As A “Millennial”

Which brings me nicely onto the current ‘shiny thing’ distraction in marketing: the fallacy that “Millennial” exists as a customer segment.

Of course, as a statistical percentile of the global population, millennials clearly exist. Globally there are around two billion men and women born between the years of 1981 and 2000. But by what stretch of the imagination can anyone conclude these people share any particular characteristics with each other? Moreover, that they exhibit fundamentally different behavioral characteristics to people in another age range?

Are millennials politically more left-wing (or right-wing) than their Gen-X or Baby Boomer parents? Are they more affluent? Less materialistic? For every study you find confirming any of the above, I’ll find you one refuting it. Not only that, but I’ll find you similar empirical evidence for pretty much any age group you care to mention.

As you may know I teach a marketing class to final-year MBA students. Every one of them was born in the 1990s. They shop online, constantly check their social media channels, use WhatsApp, email, and Skype, and value ‘experiences’ over material objects.

You know who else does all of that? My 71 year-old mother, and my 81 year-old father-in-law.

Millennials Aren’t Your Target Market

The latest millennial-targeting nonsense comes from AirFrance, who’ve announced Joon – a new subsidiary airline specifically targeted at the mythical millennials mindset. Apparently, the marketing gurus at AirFrance have come to conclusion that millennials are prepared to spend their hard-earned cash on an airline with branding and style. Of course in the real world the majority of millennials – as well as everyone else – choose an airline based on price.

Here’s a snippet from the Joon announcement:

“Joon is especially aimed at a young working clientele, the millennials (18 to 35 year-olds), whose lifestyles revolve around digital technology. This new brand has been entirely designed to meet their requirements and aspirations, with an authentic and connected offering that stands out in the world of air transport.”

You want more? How about this:

“…We started with our target customer segment, the millennials, to create this new brand that means something to them. Our brief was simple: to find a name to illustrate a positive state of mind. This generation has inspired us a lot: epicurean and connected, they are opportunistic in a positive sense of the word as they know how to enjoy every moment and are in search of quality experiences that they want to share with others. Joon is a brand that carries these values.”

I think I just threw-up a little in my mouth.

Excuse me, AirFrance dudes. When you say “…whose lifestyles revolve around digital technology…” you do realize that more than 50% of the planet uses a smartphone, and that 20% of the entire world’s population bought something online in the past 30 days? None of that has anything to do with the year they were born. ( By the way: What does ‘epicurean’ mean? Maybe I’d know if I was a millennial… )

OK, if we’re honest all such brand announcements sound ridiculous when taken out of context. What AirFrance has done here is put together a summary of its branding process, thinking that any of it means anything to ‘normal’ people (i.e. anyone not in marketing). What’s missing is the end-result: the visual and textural brand messaging that emerges from such background work. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see any of this bovine excrement meaning much to anyone – millennial or otherwise.

Don’t Market to “Millennials.” Market to “People”

A ‘millennial’ isn’t a marketing segment, or buyer persona. Actually, you could view such stereotyping as being just as short-sighted as any other sexist or racist generalization you care you mention. How about marketing home psychology study courses specifically to Cancerians, since they’re apparently more empathic and intuitive than other astrological signs? How about targeting art classes to left-handed people? Apparently they’re more creative than us righties.

Just because you were born in, say, 1984 doesn’t in itself make you a better user of Instagram than a 50 year-old. How about, instead of being lazy and determining a buyer’s habits based on when they were born, we actually created messaging that spoke to people instead of age-ranges?