Millennials are an audience that many brands are scrambling to appeal to, but they can be a difficult demographic to target.
Indeed, millennials are such skeptical consumers that they’ve been dubbed the 'hardest-to-reach generation'. Despite their affinity with technology, only a third like online ads and 52% will use ad blockers to avoid seeing them at all, a Kantar Brown study discovered.
This is widely attributed to the fact that interruptive advertising reminds millennials they’re being constantly mined for information. Consequently, they like to keep their online time private and any brand information separate from the content they consume.
However, there’s one form of advertising that's surprisingly effective when tailored to millennials: billboards. It might seem unusual, but the key to connecting with a younger audience seems to be going back to older marketing tactics. While it might seem counter-intuitive, under-35s are more likely to trust offline ads.
Why use billboards?
Billboards are often referred to as out-of-home (OOH), or advertising content that's consumed outside a person's own four walls in the real world.
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Although billboards might seem outdated compared to all the technology available today, therein also lies the advantage: they’re not intrusive or interruptive and can’t be blocked.
Perhaps because they've always been around, it seems to imbue a sense of trustworthiness among consumers who are used to seeing them day-to-day; they're not there to cajole or manipulate, but to showcase what brands are doing.
Furthermore, billboards are simplistic at a time when millennials are being bombarded with anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 ads every day. They can be understood in six to eight seconds, which appeals to the 12-second attention span millennials reportedly have.
And all this makes them effective. According to a poll by the Out of Home Advertising Association of America, 45% of US adults say they’re now noticing billboards more, with a quarter reporting that they’ve made them aware of a new brand.
In cities, 34% said OOH marketing has influenced a purchasing decision, while at the same time 68% agreed they’re tuning out digital ads.
Essentially, billboards have the power to quietly deliver maximum impact for marketers seeking to rise above the noise made by screen ads and target millennials.
What type of billboard?
Billboards can also be more high-tech than simple posters pasted onto wooden hoardings. They can come in a digital format, whereby LEDs convey messages controlled remotely by computers.
So, which is best? Traditional billboards are less costly than digital, plus they also offer exclusive use of ad space. Brands advertised through digital billboards are usually displayed on a rotating basis with other products.
However, traditional billboards can become tatty, plus they’re less useful for up-to-date price promotions. With digital, messages can be more eye-catching, regularly updated and customized for particular audiences.
This could be particularly applicable for millennials, who could be tempted to take a selfie in front of a particularly engaging billboard.
Ultimately, digital versus traditional is a choice businesses will have to make based on careful evaluation of goals and what suits each particular campaign.
So, if billboards are an effective tactic, how can they be used to attract millennials? Here are our top tips to target this demographic:
1. Engage with them authentically
Millennials are big fans of authenticity, and this demographic is also the best at spotting the difference between brand-created and user-generated content.
The key, according to a study published in The Journal of Business Research, is to use a combination of heritage, sincerity and a commitment to quality in your ad message. These are the three factors people most commonly associate with brand authenticity, so they’re what your campaigns should focus on.
2. Prioritize experiences
Millennials are simply less interested in products than previous generations. According to Millennial Rules, this generation’s main aim is to have memorable experiences, with 57% prioritizing living life to the full over all else.
You can absolutely sell them products and services, but remember that millennials dislike adverts that are obviously trying to sell. Instead, you need to emphasize the lifestyle you can provide if they make a purchase.
For example, if you were selling sunglasses, you would ideally market them by showing images of holidays and good times in sunny locales. This way you aren’t highlighting the product, you’re associating it with aspiration.
3. Use personalization
More than other generations, millennials are used to being able to personalize their products and offerings. American Express, working with psychologist Emma Kenney, found that 48% of millennials expect brands to customize offers to suit their needs.
For example, Netflix is well-known for its ability to tailor user profiles based on the content they watch. Similarly, Coca-Cola saw great success by printing labels with a variety of different names on.
This might be harder to achieve with billboards, but it’s possible to combine OOH advertising with mobile devices. One study noted a 17% increase in brand actions on smartphones after users saw adverts outside, so this kind of campaign can be used to provide a personalized experience.
4. Offer discounts and deals
Although billboards are static, think of them also as a tool to funnel viewers through to completing an action. For example, OOH ads can prompt viewers to scan a QR code for a coupon or take a picture with a Snapchat filter for a freebie, both of which boost engagement.
Many brands have made billboards interactive to great effect, such as Reebok in 2016 when it gave people who could run past its billboard quickly enough a free pair of sneakers. Everyone likes a good deal, after all, even millennials.
As Gen Y becomes increasingly jaded with the marketing offered online, perhaps now could be the time to go back to basics and see what billboards could do to help your brand target this demographic.