Dire Straits’ 1985 hit “Money for Nothing” drilled “I want my MTV” into viewers’ hearts and minds, even if the song was merely catching a cultural wave already underway.
MTV was once synonymous with the post-Baby Boomers of Generation X. But over time, its music videos—formerly its entire reason for existence—became few and far between. Gen Xers (i.e., people born between 1965 and 1976) no longer had “their MTV.” Like many brands, it now faces the task of enticing a post-Gen X and post-Millennial audience that pushes $44 billion through the economy annually.
Experts have squabbled about what to christen this new audience. From Generation Z and Digital Natives to the Rainbow Generation and Homelanders, it seems no one can agree. But MTV, which once defined a generation, is attempting to define (and attract) yet another one. Last year, it asked this demographic what it wanted to be called. The label of “the Founders” won out.
Earning The Founders’ Attention
The Founders (i.e., those born since 1995) are distinguished from the Millennials, who were born from about 1977 to 1995. Society has been disrupted by the Millennials, and the Founders will be the ones charged with resolving it.
Figuring out the newest generation is a work in progress, but it appears that its members are even more independent, technologically savvy, and grounded than previous generations. Furthermore, they come from the most diverse backgrounds of any generation thus far in the United States. Studies show that the Founders generally value the ability to be different; they don’t buy into the images of perfection that are often present in brand messaging.
Now recognizing the nuances of this younger generation, marketers are charged with building brands to fit in with the habits and preferences of today’s teenaged Founders. Marketers should be careful not to overgeneralize any generation, especially one as diverse as the Founders, but some common tactics can help attract this audience.
1. Focus on the visual instead of the textual: Opt for Instagram over Facebook. Instagram is more abbreviated and mobile-friendly than Facebook, and most tweens and teens use social media almost exclusively on their smartphones. In a 2015 Piper Jaffray survey, a third of American teens said Instagram was their preferred social network. Facebook isn’t dead by any means (15% of teens chose Facebook as their No. 1), but marketers should consider other types of social marketing. You should also look to emerging social platforms such as Snapchat for opportunities to experiment (19% rated the ephemeral app as their favorite).
2. Invest in mobile-first campaigns: Phones are the way most Founders interact with the world. According to Upfront Analytics, members of Gen Z watch twice as many videos on their mobile devices as any other cohort. Mobile campaigns may help them feel included and connected—plus, it’s the best way to actually reach them.
3. Allow for interaction and engagement with consumers or would-be consumers: Consider campaigns that include a way for Founders’ voices to be heard, such as live voting and quiz taking. Generation Z cares less about sales but itches to be heard and represented. Marketers can draw Founders in by being witty and authentic and not talking down to them. That means ditching “chat speak,” such as ROFL or LOL.
4. Encourage sharing: Going viral, when possible, is the proverbial brass ring in digital marketing. But what motivates people to voraciously share a piece of content? As it turns out, a few things: One study showed that more positive content is shared than negative content. Content that has a real-world application and taps into humans’ natural desire for acceptance is also inherently more shareable.
One of the strongest attributes of the Founders is their propensity to interact with the world around them and sound off on multiple platforms. This generation is not one that’s “seen and not heard.” Advertisers have embraced the fact that the Founders’ voices matter—not just because of who they might be someday, but also for who they are now.
By asking the Founders themselves to get involved in the naming of their generation, MTV took a step toward tapping into their buying power. What’s important isn’t so much the naming but the attempt to get young people to participate. By following these steps, marketers can engage this powerful new market segment, too.