Trending Beyond the Hashtag

Posted by Shammah Banerjee | 31-Jan-2019 17:14:05

A look at marketing to a generation of “woke” sceptics.


Today, anyone who is online has a voice.

The internet has provided the ability to convene and discuss, via hashtags and comment threads and tweets. Anyone can speak into the digital ether, and expect to find others speaking about the same thing. Popularity online is quantified by YouTube hits and tweetstorms: economic success has become intrinsically linked to online proliferation. After all, if it doesn’t have a hashtag, did it even happen?



In a vast web of conversation, it is extremely easy to find ideas and information on anything – and just as difficult to verify it. Huge bulks of information, constantly retweeted and rephrased, become distorted, amplified and prolific in equal measure; online discussions become a series of digital Chinese whispers.

For generations that can’t remember life without the internet – Millennials and Generation Z – online interaction has become tinged with scepticism. Information is superlative and the marketplace is crowded: everyone claims to have the “best” something. Into this climate of exaggerated – and even “fake” – claims, the “woke” generation is born.

Surrounded by information and constantly bombarded by media, Millennials have successfully zoned out the irrelevant and the false: 84% of them no longer trust traditional advertising.1 Getting their attention requires transparency and authenticity; it demands a brand story and a social agenda.



In 2012, the pen manufacturer BIC launched a line of pens “for her”. Available in pink and purple, the pens are smaller, “designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand”, benevolently releasing us from the weight of too-big man pens.

Wry comments from patronised female customers flooded the Amazon reviews, which – while making excellent dreary-January-afternoon-in-the-office reading – highlighted the ludicrous branding of the product.

One customer wrote, ‘when I saw these I just had to have them, so I asked my Husband to buy them for me. He refused, as he said that owning a pen might make me Think, and then have Ideas Of My Own. Then I might start to Write, which would take time away from my wifely duties such as Cooking, Cleaning, and Bearing Children. Of course he was Absolutely Right, none of these tasks require a pen, and so I have to give these one star.’2

While a ridiculous example, the moral of the story is clear: don’t brand something unless there’s meaning behind it. Arbitrary branding is worse that no branding at all: BIC’s standard black biros have consistently sold a global average of 57 pens a second since its launch in 1950.3

In a recent survey of American Millennials, 95% considered themselves loyal to a brand they like.4 83% like it when brands take a public stand for or against issues they believe in.5 Like a cat, a Millennial’s love is hard to win - but once won, it is won forever. As influencer Scott Cowley advised, marketing to Millennials should be about finding ‘aspects of culture or shared experience [that] could be considered “native” to Millennials’,6 not about plastering a blown-up youthful face all over your products. It’s about marketing with meaning and authenticity.

It’s a challenge that every brand must consider. Millennials, as a generation, are the largest population group today and the most actively engaged across social media platforms.


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1. [accessed 31.01.2019]

2. [accessed 31.01.2019]

3. [accessed 31.01.2019]

4. [accessed 31.01.2019]

5. Ibid

6. [accessed 31.01.2019]

Written by Shammah Banerjee

Shammah is the Senior Editor at Nimbus Ninety. She tracks down the most exciting stories in business and tech, produces the content and gets to chat with the biggest innovators of the moment at Chief Disruptor LIVE.

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