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Heads Up: Making Fun of Millennials Probably Isn’t the Best Way to Get Their Attention

Here at Ypulse we often tell brands that one key of representing and talking to Millennials authentically is understanding how they see themselves, and how they talk to one another. But maybe what we need to start saying next is that once you think you’ve started to understand how they talk, it’s probably not the best idea make fun of them for it.
Lately, it seems there has been a slew of commercials that have made social media and the heavy users of social media like Twitter, Vine, and Instagram (aka Millennials) the target of their attempted humor. Unfortunately, the jokes more often than not fall flat to the ears of young consumers who, while they might be self-aware of their over-sharing tendencies, probably don’t appreciate brands making fun of the behavior. Interestingly, fast-food purveyors Subway and Wendy’s are two of the clearest culprits of this marketing comedy crime, in apparent attempts to get Millennials to buy their products.
Fast food brands are hungry (sorry) to gain the attention, approval, and budgets of Millennials. We’ve seen McDonald’sTaco Bell, and Pizza Hut all making menu changes and efforts to capture the appealing youth demographic. But some brands are going about it the wrong way. Wendy’s has introduced a flatbread grilled chicken, and pretzel bun burger along with a younger, sassier redheaded spokesperson to talk up their food. But their commercials, which have had plenty of airtime this summer, often rely on a “these kids today” kind of humor that feels less
“insider Millennial speak” and more like they are talking down to the very demographic they are aiming to please. Their most recent “Blogger” commercial shows the new Wendy’s girl sitting and eating with friends while one social-networking obsessed companion disturbs her meal with endless picture and video taking of her beloved flatbread. The spots contain lines like, “Someone read my post about that new bakery place,” “”So have to tweet it,’” ‘Or we could eat it!’” and “Gotta share this with my web friends.” The language is not exactly true to life, and the commercial was even posted on a “cringe” sub-reddit. Rather than endearing Millennials by showing they understand that taking pictures of food is a big part of their dining behavior, the commercials show that Wendy’s thinks the whole practice is a little dumb, and (if the attitude of the blogging friend in the spots is any indication) kind of pretentious.

Subway seems to have followed in the footsteps of their competitor with the “Hashtag” spot for their new Tuscan chicken melt. The ads show two business attired young friends eating at Subway. One is posting gleefully to Twitter, describing his meal in endless hashtags while his friend munches away and rolls his eyes before stealing the lunch of his distracted companion. Again it’s clear that the hashtag-ing guy is the butt of the joke. As Awful Advertisements pointed out in their recent post about the campaign, the irony is that Subway encourages the use of a hashtag #GetYourOwn at the end of the commercial. Somehow, asking young consumers to use a hashtag to plug your product right after targeting them for using hashtags in the first place comes off as a bit disingenuous.

Millennials aren’t completely offended by those who make fun of social networking—they do it themselves. Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake recently created a viral video that did just that, showing how ridiculous a Twitter conversation would sound in real life. The difference between Fallon’s contribution to the hashtag teasing and the brands we’ve discussed is that Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake are part of and creators of Millennial culture themselves. They are not making fun of a generation’s chosen mode of communication, but poking fun at themselves while dropping cultural references their audience can relate to and find funny. The messenger makes all the difference: coming from brands who are clearly gearing to gain Millennials as customers, making fun of prolific networkers does not feel inclusive and winking but instead seems mocking.