Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

She’s not buying it

Published in Nov-Dec 2016
Four tips on how to sell to the Millennials.
Illustration by Creative Unit.
Illustration by Creative Unit.

I have had a rough year.

Granted it’s not the worst I have had but it’s pretty close. It all started with an insane notion that I had of striking out for myself and being my own boss. I imagined myself breezing into boardrooms and wowing clients with all my years of experience – nay wisdom – until they begged me to take their money. I imagined that once I broke myself out of the shackles of systems and processes, I would be free to do work that really mattered and would sweep the award shows. Grand Prix’s and Clios were frequent wins in this fantasy.

As you can imagine, it didn’t quite work out that way.

I found myself doing the same old work, with the same tepid results. I made fluffy (but pretty) PowerPoints that passed for strategy presentations. Shot the same old TV commercials with the same old billboards. I wrote catchy jingles instead of having actual conversations with my consumers.

I was shouting just fine, except nobody was listening. This was my mea culpa.

I have spent a significant part of my career selling soda to teens. Each time someone younger (and smarter) would point out that the teens they are a changin’ I would smile and insist that they have always been changing, and it is that change itself that is the sweet spot for our communication. But somewhere along the way those kids grew up. And became the Millennials.

Now just in case you have been living under a rock of your own awesomeness (just like me), Millennials are those born between the early 80s up until the year 2000. They spend an average of 25 hours a week online and are possibly the most lucrative market right now and I had no idea what to say to them or even how.

Until I fell in love with a Millennial. And then lost her.

Now anyone who has ever been in this situation has of course been through the seven stages of grief. While I am not even halfway through, my road to reconstruction has given me a unique perspective on where I went wrong, and what I could have done differently.

So here are my tips on how to sell to Millennials, in no particular order.

1. Don’t make promises you can’t keep

Millennials have all the time in the world for information and no tolerance for bull. They have, at their fingertips, a repository of knowledge that can challenge every claim you could possibly make. They have access to industry experts and opinion leaders whose unboxing videos and verdicts can make or break your product. Millennials are starved for content. They would much rather engage with a story than listen to one. They want to know how your brand will be a part of their life and how far you are willing to go to be a part of theirs. A great case in point would be Coke Studio versus Pakistan Idol. While the former has been around year after year, the latter came in and went. No Millennial will develop any affinity for a brand that does not consistently deliver. While Coke Studio’s merits and demerits are debated and discussed endlessly every season (hence engaged with), Pakistan Idol is all but forgotten.


More agencies need to be upfront with their clients and explain to them that the Millennials are logo averse and are loath to be influenced by or share anything that they feel is company focused. You can ‘Karo mumkin’ or ‘Light up Lives’ all you want, Millennials would rather share ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ because it does not tell you to buy Dove.


2. Don’t try to force fidelity

Loyalty is not a thing of the past, it has a new definition. Millennials are no longer loyal to brands but to themselves. The same woman who until recently was buying Sunsilk off the shelf would now prefer to buy her shampoo and scrub from N’eco’s. The boy who graduated from SZABIST or IVS would rather be an entrepreneur than work at an ad agency or a large multinational. They have realised that starting a family or owning a car and a home are ambitions that can wait. They choose a more fulfilled life over a full one. Now before you feel that this observation is limited to a privileged few, you would do well to remember that these ‘few’ are the ones who are spending to the tune of $200 billion just in the US alone. And even the ones at the other end of the economic spectrum are not buying the cow... they are renting it.

3. Don’t tell them what to do

Remember that thing about an average of 25 hours online? Here is why it matters. When a Millennial wants advice on travel, they won’t ask an agent, they go to TripAdvisor. If they want a new mobile phone, they go to Tech Crunch. They will get their information from blogs. They will carry their advisors with them in their smartphones. I pity that brand that tries to sell them their product. When it comes to purchase decisions, Millennials are more influenced by user generated content than by slick productions. One of the most frequent requests that brand managers make of their agencies these days is for a ‘viral video’. More agencies need to be upfront with their clients and explain to them that the Millennials are logo averse and are loath to be influenced by or share anything that they feel is company focused. You can ‘Karo mumkin’ or ‘Light up Lives’ all you want, Millennials would rather share ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ because it does not tell you to buy Dove.

4. Speak their language

In case you haven’t noticed, Millennials are more Urban Dictionary than Oxford. Acronyms serve as well as words. Do you know what bae means? Hangry? TL maybe? Learn. Just like any other consumer segment, Millennials respond best to marketers that speak their language. But a word of caution here. Just because you know the words, doesn’t mean you automatically have the right to use them. Context is everything and a brand that throws in Millennial speak in their communication “just because...” is like that creepy old uncle at the party who is dancing alone to Justin (Timberlake, not Beiber) thinking he’s super cool “just because...” he knows the lyrics. Odds are that he will be going home to Netflix and chill with himself tonight. Don’t be that guy.

Ali Hayat Rizvi is Creative Director, Creative Chaos. alihayatrizvi@gmail.com