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Patrick Cote, from Quebec City, is flipped by Alan Belcher during their middleweight fight at UFC113 in May, 2010. (Ryan Remiorz/RYAN REMIORZ/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Patrick Cote, from Quebec City, is flipped by Alan Belcher during their middleweight fight at UFC113 in May, 2010. (Ryan Remiorz/RYAN REMIORZ/THE CANADIAN PRESS)


Lessons for marketing to millennials Add to ...

A new assignment has had me reflecting on cases I’ve completed over the past few years. Because the target consumer in this instance is young males, and because winning in the suburbs is a strong going-in hypothesis, the findings of another case came to mind.

The findings in that case were compelling – in some ways shocking – and the lessons were profound.

Previously, I wrote about the first lesson: the power of ethnography.

Here are two more lessons:

Lesson 2: The deep-seeded anger/frustration of the suburban young male

One of the more surprising, actually shocking at times, tangential findings of the case was the deep-seated anger and frustration of the suburban young male. It was more than palpable, actually boiling over a few times.

One night I visited a bar and grille in the western greater Toronto area with a group of young guys.

It was “fight night” – an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fight was being televised live at the bar.

When we parked and were walking in, we overheard some guys in their early twenties eagerly talking about the violence they were hoping to see.

The anticipation was heated and specific. We’re not talking about standard “I hope Smith gets smashed by Jones” hockey talk you’ll hear before a game. These guys had blood lust. I believe they were not drunk or high, but they were hoping for “broken limbs” and “blood spurting everywhere” and “maybe even a death.”

The tone was serious, not joshing around. And after the televised fight, there were two full-on brawls back in the parking lot – not a few drunken punches thrown by two guys at two a.m., but five and six guys going at five and six guys with the intent to really injure. They exhibited rage.

I walked away from the bar with my group of twenty-somethings, and we talked at length about what was behind the fury.

The reasoning was fascinating. Downtown, and all that it promises – wealth, clubs, high-end partying, girls and freedom – is literally visible from the ‘burbs but unattainable because of the associated costs.

The media teach these men, in their view, that money and partying are the status symbols of success and independence, and should be achievable at 22.

Economic realities keep these men in the suburbs where they are king and where they can vent their frustration (vandalism, robbery, worse) because the ‘burbs are “darker and less policed.”


I think about three brands which have, perhaps by careful design although more likely by intuition, tapped into this extreme frustration in different ways, and the resulting marketing implications.

UFC plays to the anger directly associated with violence. Red Bull acknowledges the need for a release with sponsorship of extreme sports, some of which are very accessible (amateur athletes can participate in Crashed Ice). And MuchMusic gives teens and young adults forums to vent and explore their frustrations.

Marketers targeting teens and young adults, especially males, may benefit by deeply understanding the frustration and anger which my brim below the surface in their customers.

Lesson 3: The role of roles, and its marketing implications

One other tangential finding from that case was the role that “roles” play in how individuals interacted with one another and with brands in social situations.

It was as if stereotypes were playing out live, which was interesting in that millennials ostensibly reject brands and the lifestyles they purport to represent.

A good example was that women in this case preferred the roles of “witness” and “accomplice” to questionable or zany behaviour (by men) at parties, as opposed to taking on the protagonist or dominant role.

Just like a hip hop video? Or a mainstream sitcom? Hard to say conclusively, but again deep conversations here revealed these women felt a need to display deference to their male counterparts in social situations, which I would not have guessed based on what I observe in my own generation (Gen X).

This was one particular case, and one particular set of circumstances, and so projecting the specific role of roles findings onto other situations is dangerous.

However, there is an implication for marketers here – understanding the role that “roles” play as a media consumption or purchase decision-making frame of reference is likely an important marketing strategy input in the business-to-consumer space, particularly with millennials.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Healy, P.Eng, MBA, is a partner at Satov Consultants – a management consultancy with practice areas in corporate strategy, customer strategy and operations strategy. Mark’s focus areas inside the customer strategy practice include consumer insights, customer experience, innovation and go-to-market strategy. He is a regular speaker and media contributor on topics ranging from marketing to strategy, in telecom, retail and other sectors. Mark is known as much for his penchant for loud socks and a healthy NFL football obsession as he is for his commitment to Ivey and recent Ivey grads. He currently serves as chair of the Ivey Alumni Association board of directors. Mark lives with his wife Charlotte and their bulldog McDuff in Toronto.

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