Are millennials the most inauthentic generation ever?

In the real but not real, carefully curated online world of millennials, authentic artifice is accepted as legitimacy; therefore is it any wonder marketers are confused by what millennials want and how to deliver it to them? Kate Richardson discusses...

It’s the generation that sees through spin. They don’t respond to traditional advertising. They’re all about transparency and authenticity. Apparently.


Except that this generation is the first to grow up with reality TV, the internet and social media – all of which provide the murkiest of bacterial breeding grounds for trickery and fakery, two things considered marketing kryptonite by today’s digital natives.

The likes of Facebook and Instagram have enabled us online citizens to craft our own image and ushered in the era of the influencer.kylie-and-kendall-jenner-instagram-social-media

It’s hard to find any independent, non-barrow pushing research on influencer marketing. But unless you’ve been out of range for the past year, you’ll be aware of its impact on the conversations of both marketers and consumers, particularly when it comes to millennials.

Brands that were once cosying up to the shiny bosom of celebrity are now in hot pursuit of the stars (big and small) of Snapchat, Youtube and the rest. And today’s youth is increasingly attracted to the real, airbrush-free ‘could be me’ type of celebrity ushered in under the cover of social.

Woman with long hair sitting outside, taking a selfie.

This kind of digital marketing is especially tantalising for marketers confronting the costly failures that continue to plague online advertising; the rise of ad-blockers and the challenge of reaching audiences effectively on mobile.

We’re all guilty of being susceptible to influence by people who appear richer, more talented or stylish than ourselves – it’s certainly not the sole domain of the 20 and 30-something, nor is it new news.

It’s just that millennials’ declaration of war against the artificial makes their relationship to influencers being paid to tout sneakers, juices and everything in between, both interesting and, at face value, completely contradictory. Particularly when the rules around the transparency of sponsored content are flaky at best.

A healthy regard for entrepreneurship and their own public aspirations means as long as this audience deem the relationship between brand and online celebrity ‘authentic’, then that’s enough.Three beautiful and young girls taking selfie

While they don’t trust advertising they do put faith in their favourite Instagrammer advertising wearing or sharing the very same product, as long as it feels real – with ‘feels’ being the operative word.

This is the crazy paradox of the real but not real, fake but not fake, cultivated character of social media today. The fake-real has muddied modern day marketing so things seem both more transparent and more obscured.

In the 18th century philosophical ideas around authenticity focused on being true to one’s self. By contrast, to be inauthentic meant to succumb to external influences.troye-sivan-instagram

Over 100 years later philosophers took a more relational approach that placed an emphasis on choosing the nature of one’s existence and identity – what one was and what one could be.

Now, in the 21st century, when we are more socially connected than at any other time in human history, young people face their very own existential dilemma. While humans have always been social learners, their concept of self and notion of authenticity is increasingly constructed through their relationship to others online. It’s progressively less static and more projective; about both the everyday and the future, context and ownership.

On the one hand, more than ever before they are the authors of their own narrative. Yet at the other end of the spectrum, their identity is increasingly mediated by others, particularly in the context of social channels.

So maybe this is the generation to embrace a more philosophical notion of authenticity; spurred on by the ongoing construction of relational online identity, and super-charged by social. Perhaps they’re not hypocrites after all?

Kate Richardson is the agency director and head of strategy at Red Engine SCC


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