James Thompson
Jan 20, 2016

Buzzword bandwagon: Spare me your 'insights' into 'millennials'

Why is the industry still lapping up garbage masquerading as insight?

James Thompson
James Thompson

The word of the day is ‘millennial.’ You might be one. If so, you might be 20 years old or in your early 30s. You might be a student or a parent. An agency executive or a store worker. A musician or a trainee vet. A banker or… you get the point. And yet to a school of market research companies and corporate ‘insight’ groups, you are a millennial.

It’s so absurd that it shouldn’t need pointing out, but apparently it does. Our industry searches for a bandwagon not just to jump on but to paint homely colours and pick out carpets and curtains for. Of course there are many useful insights to be gleaned from new, vast and shifting ‘big data’ sources, and it’s important to know generational shifts. But many of the analyses or proprietary services chasing these bandwagons seem to assume idiocy on the prospective client part. The phrase ‘buyer beware’ has rarely seemed so wise.

Recently my team have been offered a service with a ‘big data’ festive wrapping which costs millions of dollars. After gentle probing, it turns out to help us avoid costs we actually avoided years ago. It gives us information we more or less already have. We’ve been offered expensive but apparently penetrating insights into millennials along the lines of “millennials are stressed and don’t feel valued.” This is as helpful as a research survey would have been on a similar generation in 1960s saying “young people enjoy sex and guitars.” Yet such garbage is lapped up by the industry and sold by the yard.

Brands are having a hard time. Companies find it hard to add value that consumers think is worth paying for. Perhaps, ‘millennial-like’, we are so time-starved that we don’t look beyond platitudes enough to find gems of insight worth paying for. If we don’t get less lazy, soon we might have to, ‘millennial-like’, find a second career.

James Thompson is global managing director of Diageo Reserve (Diageo’s luxury portfolio). Follow or Tweet him @JamesThompson1.

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