For years, there”s been a lot of fretting from the marketing world about how to grab the attention of Millennials. Brands from Denny”s to Taco Bell and beyond have tried to crack the code at engaging with the “selfie” generation. Oceans of digital ink have been spilled trying to get inside the minds of those born between 1982 and 2000.
For traditional television advertising and Big Cable™, it”s been a time to flounder. One study found that while Americans in general consume 71% of their media via television, that number drops to 44% for Millennials. For a generation brought up with the notion of media on demand, why should they watch their favorite shows on anyone”s schedule but their own?
As a mother of two members of the Generation Z tribe – ages 14 and 10 – I”m here to tell advertisers and the cable industry: it”s about to get worse. The upcoming generation of consumers has no tolerance for commercials. Born in 1983, I may barely squeak in as a Millennial, but I can remember a time before DVR and streaming. My family now fully embraces the new entertainment world order. Netflix, Hulu, Chromecast, and Amazon Prime are the only channels my kids know. The idea of checking to see what time a show comes on is as foreign to them as a Victrola machine. When we retied the cable cord, it was “so Mom can watch TV for work.”
That is, until they decided to watch “Agent Carter” with me. During the two-hour season premiere, I saw the future of traditional advertising give its death rattle. Only a quarter of the way through the show, my teenager got fidgety, his tell-tale sign of boredom.
Misreading his irritation as being annoyed with the show, I tried to let him off the hook. “If you don”t like it, you don”t have to watch,” I said, fearful of passing down another generation of memories of enforced family bonding over TV.
But that wasn”t the problem. “The show is good. I like the show! It”s the COMMERCIALS. Is all live TV like this?” he asked with a mix of horror and frustration.
I confirmed it is.
Not to be left out, my daughter chimed in, “Live TV is awful.”
This was the moment all adults dread, when the generation gap yawns open like an abyss into which you teeter into, screaming “Back in my day!!!” all the way down.
While the boy ended up powering through the torture of commercial breaks to watch the whole series with me, the girl gave up on “Agent Carter” three episodes in. She proclaimed she”d rather just wait until the next season so she could watch it on Netflix without commercials. No amount of explanation could make her understand there is no “next season” if people don”t put enough eyeballs on a show as it airs. To her, television simply appears in full 22-episode arcs, like a media Athena sprung fully-formed into the world.
And why should she think otherwise? I grew up watching The Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. I discussed “Rugrats” and “Tailspin” on the playground. My kids swap the same shows with their friends, but as old gems discovered on Netflix, cartoons from the time before time. But mostly, my kids (and their friends) watch “Let”s Plays” on YouTube.
If you”re unfamiliar, “Let”s Play” is a type of video where a YouTube celebrity films themselves playing and reacting to a video game. For the sake of this article, I asked both my kids who their two favorite YouTubers were. What followed was twenty minutes of whittling down the dozen or more stars they follow. In the end, the girl chose IHasCupquake (2.4 million subscribers) and StacyPlays (400k subscribers). The boy opted for GaLm (150k subscribers) and ZeRoyalViking (520k subscribers). In the end, other favorites were discarded for either not updating daily or not allowing you to skip past commercials.
And my kids are not alone. Many playdates and school functions now partially revolve around parents swapping stories about which YouTuber is the current favorite and if they”re age-appropriate. Birthday parties include mystified moms and dads trying to make sense of this strange new world of media consumption. It”s only a matter of time before it spills over into the wider world.
In mythology, there”s always an old crone or a Cassandra who shouts “Beware!” to no avail, but I”m shouting it anyway, as befits my “Harpy” branding. Cable companies and advertisers beware! Generation Z is coming for you. And they expect daily generated content with no commercial interference. You”ve got a handful of years to get your heads around how to reach them. Good luck.
You”re gonna need it.