The Search for Authenticity

Lana Del Ray may be the best marketing lesson out there for those trying to reach the Millennial generation. Over the past few months, the blogosphere has witnessed a raging debate about the trout-pouted songstress. She has faced an incredible backlash from underground blogs as well as the mainstream media who have called her “manufactured,” “insincere” and “talentless.”

The issue here doesn’t seem to be her music, nor the fact that she seems remarkably blasé about the whole experience. Critics and hipsters alike seem to think that Del Rey is perpretrating what is, essentially, fraud. Is that how she has always dressed? Does she really write her songs? Most people who dislike her seem to view her as a Barbie that has been dressed up and put on stage to perform and generate record sales. Take Lady Gaga – her sartorial insanity is acceptable because people believe that she herself is at the center of these choices.

What does this have to do with marketing?

This debate makes it easy to see a key trait that many Millennials are searching for in their brand of choice: authenticity.

As a Millennial, I feel that my generation is much more aware of marketing and advertising than previous generations. In some ways, this awareness has made us more accepting of the invasion of advertising into our lives — we understand why it’s there and we love to be entertained by it (see: Old Spice’s Isaiah Mustafa). In other ways, it has made us a cynical and skeptical lot. We are very wary of being pandered to and become suspicious of anything that seems a little too precious. With Millennials campaigns run the risk of either being ignored or, worse, being subverted – a danger both McDonald’s and RIM have recently discovered. While we understand that advertising will always portray a product in a particularly rosy light, Millennials don’t accept anything that seems too good to be true. Maybe this can be said of almost any cohort, but we’re a proactive bunch and the risk of angering the hivemind far outweighs the reward.

How does a brand create or maintain the appearance of authenticity?

As a Millennial, I have experienced a lifetime of growing up in a constantly changing world. I’ve lived through three wars, the rise of technologies like the cell phone and the internet and what at times feels like the end of the print industry. Brands that stay constant earn my respect. When Gap attempted to change their logo in October 2010, a familiar icon that I grew up with, I admit that I was one of the consumers angrily taking to Twitter to express my displeasure. Constancy doesn’t just mean image either – I know women who have bought 10+ tubes of lipstick knowing that in a few years, it will have been discontinued in favor of some newfangled trend. A brand can find success with Millennials by creating a few core products and relegating the innovation to trendier, evolving pieces.

Along with constancy, brands should strive to understand the premature nostalgia of my generation. Many older, more established companies seem to think that constantly reinventing or updating will give them an edge with us, but they’re wrong. It seems like everything has changed since I grew up – where are the floppy disks of yesteryear? – so it’s nice to be reminded of a simpler time. I still love purchasing the same scent of Tide detergent my parents used when I was growing up and every now and then I end up grabbing a train car of Barnum’s Animal Crackers on a road trip pit stop. Nostalgia is powerful for us, even nostalgia for a time we didn’t know. How else can you explain the popularity of shows like VH1’s “I Love the 70’s” with my set?

So, is your brand a Lana Del Rey?

In the end, marketing towards Millennials can’t serve as the be-all, end-all of a brand’s strategy – even if we will be out-earning the Baby Boomers by 2018. Even as I write this post, I have Lana Del Rey’s hit “Video Games” playing. It’s a great song and the more than 24 million views on YouTube say that I’m not the only one who thinks so. Brands that want to make an impact with me and my generation have to walk a fine line between the risk of becoming stale and the reward of being deemed a classic. We Millennials are a loyal bunch and we are more ready to commit to a brand than many marketers think – just lay off the lip injections.