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Business News/ Opinion / Columns/  Brands have put all millennials into a box, and it’s one that doesn’t fit

Brands have put all millennials into a box, and it’s one that doesn’t fit

Being a millennial in India means living as per a plan with deep ambition

India is not an easy country—there’s more demand than supply for everything from college seats to space in a metro. (HT)Premium
India is not an easy country—there’s more demand than supply for everything from college seats to space in a metro. (HT)

At marketing conferences and meetings, and in columns and reports, it’s millennials who dominate the discussions. Yet, they’re one of the least understood generations. There’s a slew of words that are used—or rather overused—to describe them: cool, fun, spontaneous.

The marketer’s dictionary is full of these words that construct an image of the millennial as the complete opposite of the older generation (to which many of the marketers belong). To them, millennials are those who live a life without a plan, and have no allegiance to tradition.

In fact, the advertising world has a quintessential millennial ad—a stock shot showing a few people jumping in the air. At least one of them will have long curly hair, and there will be a basketball or a guitar or a coffee mug, and a headline that captures the idea of ‘I live my life with my rules’. And there you have an ad tailored for a millennial.

The truth about millennials, however, is far removed from this stereotype, and there are key points around which marketing for them can be built.


India may have the largest population of young people, but our systems and institutions are still in the hands of the older generation. Only 12% of the members of the current Lok Sabha are below the age of 40. That despite millennials being the largest cohort in the country.

According to a study by Nasdaq-listed analytics company Qlik, the average age of CEOs in India is 56 years. This means young people are often subject to rules and guidelines made by older members of society.

Often, these rules result in unwanted sanctions. What you can wear to college, with whom you can have a relationship, what you should be studying as a part of your history curriculum, what you can legally express on social media—all these and more are dictated to millennials by an older generation.

The truth is that in the youngest country of the world, youth can do better with some power on its side. And there is a big role that brands targeting this cohort can play in this.

Brands can connect with millennials by building platforms that bring them together and give them the power to voice their opinion or help each other through the power of the community.


Much of the life of the Indian youth is determined by how well they can navigate the everyday. India is not an easy country. First, there’s more demand than supply for everything from college seats and jobs to space to stand in a metro.

Every year, we witness the leader-board approach to college admissions, where getting 90% is not good enough. According to a report by the Centre for Sustainable Employment at Azim Premji University, there are approximately 55 million people in the labour market with at least a bachelor’s degree, of which nine million are estimated to be unemployed.

Simultaneously, while they are building their education and career, millennials have to navigate the judgement of society and the generational differences with their parents on a wide range of subjects from relationships to career choices. Brought up with a heavy dose of culture and told to “adjust", Indian youth tend not to rebel. Instead, they find a workaround for everything.

They navigate their everyday balancing different needs and compulsions.


Youth in the western world is seen as the time for frolic and spontaneity. That young people want to live their lives without a plan is one of the biggest insights into the millennial cohort in a western context. This doesn’t hold good for India.

Being a millennial in India means living according to a plan. According to the Roper Reports, which measure the orientation of several countries on a set of values, India ranks higher than the global average on values of ambition and individuality and lower than the global index on sex and leisure.

While many brands targeting millennials may have you believe that living life as a party is the top priority for them, the truth is that the Indian millennial is busy chasing his or her ambitions, and is very focused on achievement.

As a result, brands and businesses built to tap the market for achievement, such as Byju’s for online education, do well in India. Even controversial categories such as fairness creams in India are built on the platform of achievement and aspiration.

The story of millennials is not all gloom and doom. We have a highly ambitious young population, imbued with positivity and drive, out there to change the world. However, they are driven by a different set of values and preoccupations than the marketing stereotype would have you believe.

Millennials could do with a lot of support from brands, which could help them shift the power equation in their favour. Brands could give them tools and platforms to voice their opinions or give life to their bold ideas. That’s what brands need to do to enable millennials.

Millennials need brands that can help them navigate their everyday with ease by being on their side rather than bestowing empowerment from a distant pedestal. They need brands to help them in their chase for achievement and success in building a life as per their dreams and plans.

Dheeraj Sinha is managing director-India, and chief strategy officer-South Asia, at Leo Burnett.

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Published: 31 Dec 2019, 11:02 PM IST
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