In digital marketing, #YOLO is a no-go

See what I did there?

It’s only January 2nd and I’m already exhausted by 2014 marketing trend pieces. Said exhaustion occurred two sentences into this guest column posted on Ad Age:

“#YOLO (you only live once) is the mantra for the post-millennial generation.”

Post-millennials (or,groan, Generation Z) are, at best, 8-10 years old. How anyone is able to determine true, discernible insights about them when laws on the books don’t allow marketers to acquire data on them is beyond me. But even if the above is true, I’m not sure you’d want to base a marketing strategy on an eight year old’s “mantra.”

Moreover, generalizations of generations – made before that generation comes into its own much less reaches puberty – are bound to look ridiculous a few years from now. Especially when they involve a line from a 2011 Drake song released when that generation was about six years old. **

Leaving aside my nitpicking of one line, the basis for the author’s larger point – that brands need to take advantage of a supposedly new trend of living in the moment – is obviously flawed due to its reliance on marketing-speak and mentions of cool new apps…and an absence of actual data.

Here’s a quick rule of thumb about marketing trend pieces: If the ratio of apps (or catchphrases) to data points is greater than 2:1 then it’s probably low on insight.  The Ad Age column doesn’t contain a single piece of data but mentions nine different apps and more than a few turns of phrase like “moment marketing” in a mere 560 words.)

The desire of young people to live in the moment is hardly new despite what the author wants you to believe:

“A side effect of all this cultural acceleration is that our brains are becoming hard-wired to crave instant gratification.”

Here’s an article I found after about five seconds of Googling that discusses the challenges of managing Generation X – the generation born 20 years before post-millennials whose brains are supposedly getting hard-wired all of a sudden.

In the executive summary, it states:

“If you want to retain these workers, be prepared to change your management style. This is the generation used to instant gratification.”

That was written in the year 2000. But how is this possible if our brains are still being hard-wired to crave instant gratification right now? Did a bunch of millennials travel back in time to enjoy grunge music as it happened and just stay there?

I could probably spend another ten seconds finding other (better) examples of how earlier generations were also into instant gratification (like the 1986 Time article about baby boomers quoted here that says “From the first, the baby boomers were accustomed to instant gratification”) but it should be clear to anyone who’s studied cultural patterns that “kids these days” will always be into “the now” or instant gratification. Anyone who is trying to tell you that youth are more into living in the moment now than they have been before is selling something.

In this case, what’s being sold here is the idea that clients should be using apps like Snapchat (oops) or Soundhalo and paying agencies or high-priced consultancies to guide them through this digital minefield so they can give those clients an Oreo cookie moment. Again, from the Ad Age piece:

The success of the Oreo Superbowl blackout tweet showed how effective this approach can be. More recent examples include British Airways’ #lookup London billboard that uses GPS to track the origins and destinations of real planes flying overhead.

The Oreo tweet certainly had an impact and brought the company a lot of earned media. But whether it’s sustainable as a means to break through the clutter is debatable. As it is, we’re now inundated with marketers trying to prove how relevant they are in social conversations with tactics that range from the mildly embarrassing to outright damaging. Whether this newsjacking really helps a company’s sales is still to be determined.

The trouble with new apps or newsjacking is they’re both experimental. They don’t have a proven track record for delivering the kind of results a business wants or the audience it needs. But they’re new so they get a lot of press and attention from both clients and agencies.

Should brands be experimental? Sure. But more importantly, any tactics they use should relate to a client’s business needs. They should stem from an overall strategy or story about the business that’s ownable by that business (if someone else can say it, say something different), be organized around a creative idea and be executed in a specific, sustainable way.

Like investing, marketing should involve a balanced portfolio. Any of-the-moment marketing that doesn’t support a long-term strategy is doomed to fail. And that’s a maxim that’s been true for several generations.

** EDITED TO ADD: This Ad Age piece from 2011 discusses the above cohort in greater detail – calling them iGen –  and actually includes data on “the 2011 top brands among 6- to-12-year-olds.” So, measurable they are. I’ll stand by my assertion as to whether you can proclaim a mantra for them. The article also contains a hodge-podge of data on 6-12 year olds and 13-17 year old but uses all of it to draw conclusions, which seems suspect particularly for a cohort whose lives are in constant change. Still, it’s much better insight than the piece I quote above. Notably, it demonstrates that this group favors trusted platforms and friends for insight into brands.

1 comment for “In digital marketing, #YOLO is a no-go

  1. Dena Saper
    January 2, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Another problem w/newsjacking is that you can’t depend on appropriate events happening. A power failure at the Super Bowl is one thing — it’s an inconvenience, no one was killed. The Arab Spring was quite another thing, but Kenneth Cole still newsjacked it — and looked like an asshole for doing so.

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