OPINION2 October 2015

Millennials, smartphones and the impact on advertisers


Millennials may face challenges previous generations didn’t, but their digital freedom means they can take part in an on-going, multi-media conversation. Adele Gritten shares insights on how this generation connects with newsbrands and what advertisers can learn from that.


Generation Y, the millennials, have it tough.

Born into an unstable world, millennials have poor financial prospects, can expect a life predicated on debt rather than equity, despite being more educated, more informed and more globally and environmentally aware than those born in previous decades.

They can expect to live in increasingly densely populated areas where competition for jobs, school places for children and affordable homes becomes the business of daily existence. They will live longer than their parents, but they will also work a lot longer and receive smaller pensions – longer at what price?

Digital Freedom

While that might all sound somewhat gloomy, millennials have something Gen Xers and baby boomers don’t. They have digital freedom, full access to a big wide world and the life-changing realisation that the pursuit of happiness doesn’t necessarily mean the pursuit of material wealth and physical possessions.

Millennials have a shared, collective sense of purpose, and an optimistic outlook that comes with living in a narrated world. The background to their lives is an on-going, multi-dimensional and multi-media conversation, with newsbrands centre-stage and part of their daily networked conversations. This conversation straddles the personal, the social and the societal, and provides context for their activities.

Having undertaken a qualitative research project for Newsworks exploring how young people read and relate to newsbrands on their smartphone, how the relationship differs to other platforms and the associated implications for advertisers, we uncovered a few key insights.

Firstly, young people continuously graze newsbrands on their smartphone throughout the day. This is a habit, an automatic reflex which they don’t even think about. It includes a mix of newspaper websites, apps and other news relates sources, and lasts for an average of 54 minutes spread out across the day (according to our participants’ self-reporting).

Secondly, millennials expect newsbrand mobile reading to be quick, flexible, clever, personal and efficient, because that is what digital, social, mobile means to their generation. 

Web of conversations

Thirdly, newsbrands on mobile are almost synonymous with social media, which is the background to the lives of this generation.  It provides the context and the fabric of their communication. Each individual is a spider creating his or her own web of conversational networks, and once integrated into the web, newsbrands will be connected and reconnected, shared and discussed.

The boundary of social and personal discourse becomes blurred on smartphones but in a positive, rather than negative way. Brands and news content have as much a place in young people’s conversations as family and friends, providing they are personally relevant and integrated.

So, what does this mean for advertisers engaging with millennials via newsbrand content on smartphones?

  1. Young people have no problem with combining promotion, news content entertainment and advertising, providing it is seamless and integrated. They are all about connectivity and continuity: as long as a brand does not break the conversation and create discontinuity, it is allowed to play a role in the discourse.
  2. Advertising is a further extension of the interconnected and fluid discourse that is such a part of millennials’ narrated lives. As long as it is not intruding on the conversation, but rather is a part of it and personal to the reader, it is welcomed. If it is also clever, impactful and relevant, it will even be celebrated and shared.
  3. Ads should be streamlined and non-invasive to news content. Millennials object when they have to close an ad to see the article, or when the advert cuts across the text.
  4. Millennials want companies to exploit digital technology. They know that the web can track what sites they have viewed, so they think that ads should be shown based on their internet history. They notice and enjoy seeing tailored adverts, and click on them regularly.
  5. Despite the rise of ad blocking technology alongside message proliferation, advertisers would do well to act more strategically and tactically and to engage millennials as advertising partners, rather than simply as advertising recipients. More than any other age group, millennials can help shape, guide, promote and champion advertiser messages.

Adele Gritten is managing director, Europe, Lieberman Research Worldwide