Just when you thought you’d read the last article analyzing the vehicle purchasing habits of Millennials, here comes another from Canada’s largest national newspaper, the Globe and Mail.
“Why car companies spend so much time targeting hipsters” is the headline of Jon Cook’s story, which delves into the cringe-inducing ad campaigns automakers have crafted to lure young and hip people into showrooms.
The author touches on some valid marketing points in the piece, then un-ironically introduces people who embody the hipster stereotype to talk about what hipsters like themselves want.
For starters, “hipster” is not interchangeable with “Millennial,” and the tropes that come with hipsterdom do not necessarily resonate across the age spectrum occupied by Millennials (roughly, people born in the 1980s and ’90s).
For this reason alone, automakers should think twice about getting involved in a campaign that portrays their target audience in a manner in which only a small portion of the audience identifies.
Hipsters, like the hippies and beatniks that came before them, are a small, like-minded subset of an age demographic, usually clustered in major urban centers, who all conform to a similar aesthetic (which for some reason is seen as enhancing individuality).
Artisanal bike baskets hewn from repurposed barn doors, beer with more hops than anyone needs, and beards borrowed from Rasputin might float some people’s boat, but they’re not the interests of an entire generation.
Still, automakers continue to court the hipster demographic in big cities like Toronto or New York, simply because a lot of young people — often with jobs! — live there.
Ahead of last year’s launch of the Audi A3, Cook writes, dealerships were advised to hold “hipster-esque” bashes, and directed “to feature locally sourced food and craft beer and to have DJs only spin tracks that had ‘obvious cool factor.'”
Think back to Chevrolet’s painfully awkward launch of the Spark subcompact for real-life lessons on that.
At some point, a marketing person working for an automaker has to ask, “Do young, moderately employed, eco-friendly people paying high rents in the downtown areas of cities containing decent transit and horrible traffic want to sign their life away on a new car?”
This “hipster = all Millennials” thinking is the reason we’ve been inundated in articles about how Millennials don’t want cars, a much-hyped myth that’s only now crumbling in the fact of actual data.
Yes, many Brooklyn hipsters probably have no use or want for a car. A 27-year old living in Oklahoma City or a suburb of Cleveland or Raleigh might want one, but they’re slightly outside the orbit of New York writers. Who knows what lies west of the Appalachians?
In 2014, industry sales analyst JD Power released a report showing that Generation Y buyers had surpassed Generation X in new auto sales, possibly on target to surpass Boomers within the decade.
The study found that Generation Y buyers wanted a car that stood out from the crowd and came with the technology they liked, but didn’t care all that much about environmental friendliness.
Gee, there’s no parallels with the original Mustang/Charger/GTO here …
Derek Thompson, writing in the Atlantic, was forced last year to dial back his earlier predictions of a car-less generation of Millennials living in urban flats. Shockingly, once some people of his age gained money and a family, they began looking for a home in the suburbs and a car in the driveway.
There’s a danger in assuming everyone in your age demographic subscribes to your personal ideals, or that your generation’s wants must be vastly different than that of the previous generation.
The lesson for automakers? There are better ways of targeting a broad segment of the population while casting the widest possible net for sales. No subset of the population has ownership of a theme. Retirees like freedom and spontaneity, too, assuming they have savings or a pension. Don’t get caught in the narrow focus trap, understand the diversity of your audience, and most of all — don’t be lame.