Expert gives pointers on how to connect with Millennial generation

March 3, 2003 | By Mary Wade Burnside

If the producers of the Super Bowl wanted to appeal to the Millennial generation—those born since 1982—they failed miserably, according to author and generation expert William Strauss.

“The whole Superbowl, with the exception of the Dixie Chicks national anthem, was chasing after the teens of 12 years ago,” Strauss said during a seminar at the Country Radio Seminar, held at the Nashville Convention Center, Feb. 19-21.

Even the advertisers miscalculated, Strauss believes. He referred to the Osbournes/Osmonds commercial for Pepsi Twist, where Ozzy’s kids, Jack and Kelly turn into Donny and Marie.

“My wife laughed at it,” Strauss said. “My daughter didn’t have a clue. Are they trying to sell this sugary drink to people in their 40s?”

Why bring this up to a group of deejays and others in the business of country music? Strauss has been taking his message to anyone who needs to take generational differences into account, and that would be just about any business that wants to sell something to the group born between 1982 and 2002 or so.

Members of that generation do not consider country music to be their favorite, according to a national survey conducted by Edison Media Research and put into a release by the Country Radio Seminar, held each year in Nashville by the Country Radio Broadcasters. However, the release noted, interest in the music has been growing among listeners ages 15 to 29, about half of which comes from the Millennial generation.

Strauss has applied his generational statistics and theories to the entertainment industry before. He has appeared at the annual meeting for the Western Fairs Assn., and the Kern County Fair, Bakersfield, has been implementing changes based on his assertions.

He spent a good portion of the seminar defining Millennials and how they differ from previous generations—the Gen Xers, the Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation.

In spite of media attention to the contrary, the Millennial generation cares about achievement, gets along with parents, like women enough to possibly elect a female president, and prefer cleaner, more conservative art, Strauss said.

“Millennials are the happiest age bracket,” Strauss said. “Gen Xers are the most cynical age bracket.”

Teen pregnancies and births have been going down, Strauss noted. The generation also has been sheltered, the exact opposite of the Gen Xers, also known as “latch-key kids” whose parents divorced at high rates and who were subjected to the “evil children movies—Rosemary’s Baby” “The Omen,” “The Children of the Damned,” “The Children of the Corn,” etc.

Strauss outlined how radio programmers should take these traits into consideration. He had his daughter make him a CD.

The CD featured 19 songs, the top country and pop hits according to Billboard. Strauss listened to each song and determined how each would appeal in a particular category. When it came to comprehensible lyrics (95%), the world or work (53%), personal stories (37%), family and duty (42%), country music won big. The traits where pop music scored better included vulgarities (37% compared to zero for country), sex and passion (68% to 5%), and anger or exploitation (79% to 5%).

“Based on what I’ve been telling you about Millennials, country music has a lot of things that work for them,” he said.

However, he noted some aspects of country music that would not be as appealing to the typical Millennial. This includes the high percentage of white artists with southern accents (100% of the sampled songs) and male artists (74%).

“These are areas that are important for you to look into,” he said.

In the end, he brought it back to the Dixie Chicks, whom he considers to be a touchstone in the country world that has widespread appeal. His daughter provided the anecdote when she attended camp. “It was a diverse group, and the only song that everyone connected with was ‘Goodbye Earl,’ by the Dixie Chicks,” he said, before noting that the piece, about killing an abusive husband, goes a little against the Millennial grain. “It’s not exactly a romantic song.”