Waging war on millennial memes

Gen Y loves their memes and both millennials and marketers are using them more and more to connect to younger audiences but we are propelling a false and negative stereotype? Tym Yee asks do we need a war on meme?

tym yeeWe can’t afford houses. We’re over educated. We spend money. The job market is an asshole.

Yes, we millennials face a depressing lot in life.

I feel, however, that despite the aforementioned circumstances and being on the receiving end of an endless flow of you’re-screwedisms, up until only recently we’ve been able to stand our ground.

We’ve been known to scoff at unreasonable requests made to us in the workplace, disparage the silent cries of our Gen X counterparts struggling to raise young families, and we’ve never once stopped to second guess our entrepreneurial abilities – no matter how stupid the app idea.

Throughout all of the crises we’ve faced we’ve remained a confident, self-assured people.

Yet my observations of social media over the past year would lead me to believe that this has changed. The endless flow of memes depicting us as hopeless, hapless, helpless adults struggling to cope with the ‘real world’ suggest that we’ve somehow lost our way.

All of a sudden it’s become status quo to constantly use ironic imagery to tell each other and the world that we ‘can’t even’ because the struggle is apparently too real. Instead of broadly discussing the challenges that define our generation (affordable housing, global warming, innovation, etc.), more often than not we’ve resigned to making them into funny .GIFs.

As brand marketers this is a low hanging fruit to pick. It’s tempting to use ironic observational humour in attempts to resonate with consumers. We want to communicate in a buddy-I’m-on-your-level, I get you fashion. But is this always the right thing to do?

Because down the end of this path of humorous screen shots and 15 second fail videos lies something far worse than ‘the struggle’ for us millennials – it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy.

GenYThere’s no doubt that these posts are engaging and give a voice to widely held generational sentiments, but I believe there’s a line to be drawn between articulating a problem, and perpetuating it.

It was funny at first; to be so strikingly self-aware of millennial challenges and to see them mediated on our television and computer screens.

But haven’t we outgrown this once-funny-now-unhelpful churn of self-deprecation? Why should we tell the world we feel lucky as a Gen Yer just to have a full time job when we’re actually more than deserving of one? Can we please stop valorising Hannah Horvath?

If we want to kill this trend of ‘sees meme – shares meme – becomes­ meme’ – we need to change our behaviour on social media.

I’m calling this the Millennial Rite of Passive.

Much like any rite of passage the rite of passive requires those who undertake it to grow up a little bit. It involves putting all of these first world problems into perspective and taking back control of our generational narrative. As the phrase suggests, I recommend we do this by being more passive on social platforms when we encounter destructive millennial memes. Take action through inaction.

Even if it’s funny, even if it resonates with you, even if it feels so truthful, if it doesn’t paint an honest picture of millennials, don’t circulate it. Stop sharing, retweeting, tagging and reposting images, videos and .GIFs that undermine our capabilities as workers, thinkers and fully functioning adults.

As marketers we are particularly influential in how broader cultural stories are told. So not only do we need to do this in our own social media feeds, but also on behalf of our brands. When someone suggests we use ‘observational humour’ in wry ways or try to convince millennials that we really understand their ‘struggles’ ask them why they’re not insisting on a more positive message.

If we don’t pass through this rite of passive we risk becoming our own harshest critics; our own worst enemies. We need to reclaim that confidence and stop second guessing ourselves.

We’re known for our arrogance, know-it-allism and self assurance. That’s the odd world we should aspire to live in. Not the one in which we can’t even.

Tym Yee is a writer at Optus Entertainment.


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