Divergent Perspectives from Cannes: The Boomer and the Millennial

June 25, 2015

Peers, Not Parents
By Karen Strauss

“You don’t want to sound like their parents,” I was cautioned in preparing for my Cannes Lions panel on connecting with consumers aged 50 and above. A father of adult millennial children, my rehearsal coach wanted me to avoid alienating the young-ish marketing crowd. Oh, the irony.

Age is a sensitive and recurrent theme in Cannes, as in life. In describing the enormous, often missed opportunity of appealing to the one in three Americans who spend half of all CPG dollars in America, the last thing I wanted was to risk scaring an audience full of young creatives.

As it turned out, the cognitive neuroscientist, Dr. Itiel Dror, who was the first speaker I heard in Cannes on Monday, actually advised the crowd to “scare” your kids by saying “boo” when they open the front door, so they learn a lesson about never doing so when their parents are away. He was illustrating how behavior is only changed by making messages into memories. And he was not the only 50+ speaker in Cannes to invoke his own children to make a point – and make a living.

The next to do so was SY Lau, president of the online media group of Tencent, who shared images of his millennial son and daughter taking college coding classes and connecting with friends through Internet services like qq.com. His kids were proxies for his discussion of the “human face behind devices” and the lifestyle improvements that Tencent has ushered into China. Again, generational co-dependence.

Joanna Coles, the 50-something editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, interviewed Evan Spiegel, the 25-year-old founder of Snapchat, mentioning repeatedly that her teenage sons live on the social platform, and that she as a traditional journalist marvels at their fascination with the ephemerality of the platform. Spiegel confessed he was hiring journalists to work out some of his newer “story” products. Another cross-generational moment.

My panel, “Whatever You Do, Don’t Call Them Grey (or Silver),” directly delivered the truism so many speakers subconsciously conveyed. My co-presenter Kirsty Fuller, co-founder and CEO of Flamingo Group, used her own experience and examples of successful work to bring this message to life: Be inclusive in marketing. Feature multi-generational images and themes. We depend on one another. Stop pigeonholing by age (click to tweet).


Not So Different After All
By Sarah Unger

Since I started running Ketchum Y2Z – our marketing to Gen Y (millennials) and Gen Z expertise – I’ve found that people expect there to be a degree of combativeness when it comes to millennials’ approach to their 50+ counterparts. But in reality, I find the opposite to be true. If anything, we’re inspired by boomers – redefining themselves, showing us younger folk how much life can evolve over the course of time, and giving us something pretty awesome to look forward to. Cannes is a case in point. Sure, we all line up around the corner to see the younger new creatives in town, but I’m learning that some of the most profound wisdom comes from the seasoned creative directors.

I do believe that the 50+ set can sometimes feel threatened by the focus on millennials – and with good reason, when marketing dollars are being siphoned off to win over the shiny 20- and 30-something set. But, at Cannes and beyond, the sense of inter-generational battle is more hype than reality (click to tweet). The celebrity speakers here – Pharrell, Marilyn Manson, Natalie Imbruglia – may have been marketed more to the millennial generation (the latter two being ‘90s icons for millennials), but all three have significance to people of any age. And for every young creative superstar onstage, there’s a more seasoned creative director sharing hard-won insights and experiences.

Personally, I find that my peers aren’t very combative about age at all. Having older friends and influences always strikes me as a great benefit, and these days I’m learning from them more than ever. Ketchum, specifically, has a lot of partners with many years of experience – more than the average PR agency. At Cannes, I am lucky to spend a week with many of them as peers – together in the trenches, navigating this overwhelming display of creativity. This has been one of the defining features of the agency’s appeal to millennials – we get actual face time (not just, FaceTime) with the pros – and lots of ‘em!

This has allowed me to find mentors, sure – but more than that, deep friendships with people who are 10 or more years older than me. Relationships where we learn from each other’s life experiences over some rosé and have a conversation about the session we just saw. Our perspectives are often slightly different – after seeing Evan Spiegel, I wanted to be a fly on the wall during his team’s weekly “empathy sessions” and Karen wanted to see if Evan was available for her daughter. But overall, we took a lot of the same main points away.

And frankly, I don’t see why marketing should reflect a world that’s any less cross-generational than that.

Remember to check out Ketchum.com’s Cannes social hub for the latest from the festival and join the conversation with #KetchumCannes.