Samir DatarPublished: 11 Sep 2019, 12:00 AM
Guest Article

Is the Millennial really who we think she is?

It is interesting that a Gen X person is going to write about Gen Y generation. Wonder why there aren’t any Generations from A through to W. Perhaps back then, they didn’t have marketers, researchers and advertisers with their ubiquitous Power Point and a penchant to form cohorts so that selling an idea would become much simpler.

William Strauss and Neil Howe are widely credited with naming the millennials. They coined the term in 1987, around the time children born in 1982 were entering pre-school, and the media were first identifying their prospective link to the impending new millennium as the high school graduation class of 2000 (source: Wikipedia) - essentially turning 18. And in India, we have a huge population that is part of this cohort. Almost 450 million (the world’s largest population of millennials) who are influencing the way Indians eat, shop, commute and buy, as per a study by researcher Kantar IMRB and Dialogue Factory.

Now I cannot dispute that. It is a study and every big brand is dipping into their own studies to address this huge population.

But my question is, how much of it has to do with this clubbing of a generation and homogenising a behavioural pattern and how much of it has got to do with a natural process of evolution?

Technological advances, improving standard of living, more disposable income and aspirations led by global access were bound to impact the population. Not just the millennials, but even Gen X (people like me) correspond to what is considered a millennial lifestyle. People of my generation have Uber/Ola on our phone and use it extensively. We have fitness apps on our phones. We also believe that leading a healthy life is a priority and we are willing to pay a premium for good health. If anything, a fair amount of Gen X also show characteristics that define Generation Z!

I think as marketers, we have been too caught up in an age-band defining behavioural characteristics, especially in India. While for the world, this homogenisation might hold true, for us, given the extreme diversity that exists, perhaps we need to look at it in a different perspective. A millennial’s behaviour is going to be very different in Delhi or Mumbai or Chennai or Bulandshahr or Akola or Nagpur or Madurai or Vijayawada or Guntur or…

It isn’t the age but a mindset that is driving a lot of evolution in terms of buying and consumption in this country. The genesis of this mindset lies in the year 1991.

1991 – A watershed year for India

1991 was the year when we opened up to the world. After decades of living in a very closed economy, we suddenly had access to what the world had been consuming for very long. And, we were in a big hurry to catch up with the world. I don’t have the numbers but look at growth of automobiles before 1991 and post 1991. Look at growth percentage in terms of mobility. Look at urbanisation and how many connected airports we have today vis a vis pre-1991. As a country, we moved forward rapidly.

This growth was not brought about by the millennials to begin with. It was the Gen X that bought into all that was on offer. This generation not only upgraded in lifestyle but also changed their worldview, which helped the Gen Y to grow in a very different environment. Culturally, we changed and created a platform for the current generations to grow. I had read somewhere that if one wants to understand Generation Z better, look at Generation X who gave birth to them.

When the process of evolution starts, it is irreversible. Development and adoption of various technologies, processes and behavioural changes are a natural corollary. It is true that some sections of society adopt earlier than others and they really are the pioneers who help the next generation and the generation after that to evolve.

In India, we need to look beyond age brackets and understand how the country is evolving. What are the triggers that are impacting us. Yes, there is a huge population that constitutes millennials and therefore makes it easy to assign marketing and communication budgets and also to select the media to approach them. But if we truly want to make a difference, we need to address a mindset rather than age.

Address the millennial in all of us.

(The author is the head of strategy at Hakuhodo India.)