Marketing to Gen Y

March 27, 2009sparxoo_admin

Tips on How to Market to Gen Y

Co-Authored By:

Andi Enns, PR & Marketing Blog

Edited by Ethan Lyon, Senior Writer, Sparxoo

To understand the market influence of Gen Y, let’s begin with some simple math: 150+50=200. Put a dollar sign in front of the 200 and billion behind it and you have the total buying muscle that is Gen Y.

Gen Y spends nearly $150 billion out-of-pocket with nearly $50 billion in buying influence, tallying the buying power of teens and young professionals to $200 billion. These teens and young professionals (many not having left the nest) influence 81% of their families’ apparel purchases and 52% of their car choices, according to online marketing expert, Kelly Mooney.

Generation Y can be difficult to market to, because they are acutely aware of the fact that they are constantly bombarded with thousands of messages every day. Whether it is in print, on their phones, tv, web or outdoor, Gen Y has emerged as a generation that has learned to ignore.

And what are they buying? Think impact. Of teens 12-17, 91% are investing in products that invest in social causes and 89% would abandon brands for those creating positive social, economic and eco impact, according to Cone/Roper. Remember (RED)? (PRODUCT) Red was cause-related-marketing at its most shining, sparkling, computing, t-shirt wearing best. Apple Inc., American Express, Starbucks, Converse, Gap, Hallmark, Dell… and the company all star list goes on. Apply some of the basic trends of Gen Y to your medium and voilla you’ve gotten a glimpse of a possible future.

Impact is just one of the many strategies we’re going to discuss. When we consider the state of the media, we shouldn’t just jump on the bandwagon and say “told ya so” or “too bad so sad” to newspapers or tv. Despite conventional thought, every media has a future. Just as tv didn’t kill the radio star, or the Hulu squash prime time, there is a future for all media. Though it might be difficult to envision a tween picking up a newspaper, what if that newspaper were the Daily Kos? Think out-side-of-the-box. Don’t let innovation be trapped above the fold. Consider the future of media as Gen Y updating tradition.

So how can your organization capture the attention of GenY? How can you build a brand that will have Gen Y coming back for more?



Courtesy of David Niddrie

Paper boy, on-your-doorstep print, is Gen X’s media. In its struggle to engage a younger generation, there are new and exciting ways of giving a face-lift to a sagging, droopy media. Gen Y is a me me me generation that likes to see me me me everywhere–think Facebook, or Flickr, or the-camera-shot-in-the-bathroom-with-your-shirt-off Myspace. Their information and “me” pictures are everywhere.

Take that concept and shift the focus to print. To capture the attention of Gen Y in print media, name drop, have them contribute (a quote or author an entire article) or have their mug in your pub. This will stick out in their minds… barring that, you should offer some sort of guidance, or encourage change (remember (RED)).

With a generation that grew up with shlock and awe, make sure you’re not gimmicky. Honesty equals interesting and engagement. List tips just like you would in a blog post, but embelish a bit more.

Choose your advertisement target publication carefully. Niche publications are everywhere. Dog magazines, cat magazines, nature, nurture, body-building, body art. Find a niche and stick to it. There are even services that can help you be your own editor-in-chief. The Printed Blog allows the empowered user to print their own breakfast-table read (for Gen Yers, minus the breakfast table). In years previous, you could advertise in a newspaper or magazine and be seen by many demographics. Now your best bet is the local alternative weekly.


If you have seen a tween or young professional absent a cell phone, you might be “seeing things.” It might be because 94% of Gen Yers own a cell phone, and comprise a shocking 46% of total iPhone users, according to the 2008 demographics released by Apple. This makes mobile marketing a prime outlet for reaching these consumers. Create an application that ties into your business (eBay, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter) have all done this successfully.

If your aim is Gen Y, create a version of your site (limited or full-featured) for easy viewing on a phone. Name it Another great tactic is making your blog, magazine or other publication ready to be read by iPhone users. Set up a SMS system to send users a certain article when they text you a certain code.


Do you know someone who doesn’t own a computer? You might be hard pressed to even imagine your grandma without one. In a survey by Junco and Mastrodicasa, 97% of students owned a computer (for the 3%, there’s the library). For Gen Y, the web represents a personal connection with the virtual world around them. Authenticity is highly valued, so maybe shedding that avatar and showing some humanity might help you connect with Gen Yers. Additionally, some flesh and bone might make your company smaller and more mom-and-pop-like.

Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Mixx, delicious and the social networking list goes on and on. Pick a few and be the best at them. And make sure you’re a part of the community. Web spam is just as appealing as can spam. Make sure you’re an active contributor of not only promotional material, but also support those around you. Remember, honesty is sticky.


Like in print outlets, GenY has trained themselves to ignore billboards and other outdoor advertising. Companies have tried to overcome this with flashing lights and other gimmicks, but the truth is that GenY is not listening. Flash is trash.


Courtesy of Victor Puig

The exception is innovative, impactful or cultured advertising. Take example from this “Friends of the Earth” billboard from JWT Hong Kong. The billboard is meaningful, clever and interesting–all a combination to open the eyes of Generation Y.

Also, take a page out of performance artists’ books and create a campaign that stands out. One bus station in New Zealand took all the rubbish left around in one week and put it in a clear box with a message about littering. This type of campaign tends to get more attention than the standard car dealership fan-man.

Looking Forward

Make sure that your campaign stands out from the rest of the media messages. GenY has noticed Pepsi’s new campaign because it looks different from everything else. Be different, be transparent, or at least appear so, and give a taste of excitement in your campaign.