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The Myth of Millennial Ad Responsiveness

A number of articles have propogated the belief that Millennials are not as responsive to advertising as other generational cohorts. Michael Wolfe challenges this assumption.

This article addresses the issue of Millennial advertising response. It centers on evidence which is counter to the common notion that Millennial’s are not responsive to advertising and provides a very different perspective on this issue.

A number of articles have appeared which indicate that Millennial’s (ages 18-34) do not respond to ads like other age cohorts. In particular, that they are less responsive to various forms of advertising. Since my company has partnered with another company which has a massive data base of advertising (copy) test data, I am fortunate to be able to test this assertion with real data and on a large scale.

Using a database from Advertising Benchmark, Inc., I reviewed media-level ad effectiveness measures across the (1) general population, (2) the Millennial age cohort (18-34), (3) the Gen X age cohort (35-54), and (4) the Baby Boomer age cohort (55+). This database covers copy tests for over 917 brands and 3188 separate ad or copy tests for a 90 day period ending 7/6/2017.

Using the ABX overall ad effectiveness scores across numerous media types, the chart to the right does not support the contention that Millennial’s are less responsive to advertising; in fact, just the opposite in that they are the most responsive group across all media forms.

The key insight from this chart is not only do Millennial’s respond at higher levels than other generational cohorts, but the older group, Baby Boomers (55+) respond at an alarmingly lower rate than any other group.

But is this the final answer on this topic? The key metric, ABX’s overall ad effectiveness test score, is derived from a common set of questions to people exposed to these ads through an online survey. The metric comprises questions pertaining to an ad’s correct branding, how it affects brand reputation, if the ad message is correctly recalled and understood, if the ad was perceived to be relevant and if the ad generated various “engagement” behaviors, including purchase-intent.

To this end, we can also evaluate how the different age generations also responded to these elements of the ad effectiveness measure. As shown on this chart, Millennial’s score higher on all measures of engagement, purchase intent, and ad likeability; but are equal on message understanding and lower on ad dislike.

By contrast, Baby Boomers score significantly lower on all of these same measures and tend to dislike ads much more than the other groups.

The insights shown here are not only counter conventional opinion, but have major implications for the advertising business. The focus needs to center on the “why’s  behind this evidence”. Is  the perception that Millennial’s are less responsive to ads a result of less ad exposure? Does the fact that Millennial’s are more responsive to advertising indicate that too much attention is being focused on this group and too little on the older Baby Boomer generation, from advertisers? Is the lower response of Baby Boomers evidence of neglect from advertisers? Is this lower Baby Boomer response due to a natural occurring process, where people simply become more distrustful of advertising as they age? What is the root cause of the very high “dislike” of all ads among Baby Boomers?

The evidence uncovered here certainly raises more questions than it answers. But it is time to put more facts behind this. Here, the sheer size and depth of this data suggests that common notions about generational advertising response should be challenged.


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