Ending Soon! Save 33% on All Access

5 Ways to Market to That Fickle Group Called Millennials The younger crowd doesn't mind advertising, but they do love making fun of it. So, be careful.

By Thomas Smale Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

ViewApart | Getty Images

Millennials can be a fickle group to market to. While many companies manage admirably to market to this age cohort, others try to pry open millennial wallets -- and fail catastrophically.

Related: 4 Strategies to Use When Marketing to Millennials

Include McDonald's in the latter group. The fast food giant's "Create Your Taste" campaign failed when the company decided that young people would jump at the opportunity to create their own sandwiches online. That assumption was oh, so wrong, and the result was that many millennials lambasted the very notion of sharing their failed creations with their friends.

Some of those deliberately bad creations included "The Nihilist," containing no food at all, and "The Bag of Lettuce," containing only ... lettuce.

With that failure in mind, let's take a look at the marketing channels that are available, and examples of some (mostly) bootstrapped successes.

Social media

Social media channels aren't going anywhere. The average U.S. resident spends about 142 minutes per day on social media. Therefore, there are lots of opportunities for you to promote your products/services. However, being too direct can often be counter-productive.

Take a look at the Lokai brand's campaign for its bracelets. The company heavily targeted millennials, encouraging them to send in content from around the world, and posting their pictures of Lokai bracelets in far-flung locations. Combined with a socially responsible message, this campaign caught the imaginations of young people, and they flooded social media with hash-tagged pictures.

If you're on a tight budget, you may find it worthwhile to join appropriate groups and pages before launching a campaign. Get involved with conversations as they occur, by regularly checking your feeds. By having a primed group of friends, not followers, you will be better positioned to launch a campaign like Lokai's.

Related: 3 Essential Tips for Marketing to Millennials

Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is an area where companies are less vulnerable to the millennial ridicule other channels sometimes inspire. Simply put, if people actually like the person who is promoting a certain product or service, they are unlikely to make fun of the promotion.

While influencer marketing is not something you're likely to wade into if you are a bootstrapped startup, assigning any budget you do have to this strategy will be a sensible first move for the right kind of product. For example, look at Daniel Willington. This Swedish watch company has been around only since 2011 (often, longevity is a good sign for watchmakers); but with help from influencer Kendall Jenner, the company offered discount codes for a limited period, providing a big spike in both its sales and brand awareness.

Another good example: Samsung's launch of its new Note 7 product, with the help of CyreneQ. That artist used her Snapchat account to document the launch event, and using its 10-second video format, showcased some of the new device's features.


Podcasting is a great way to reach niche audiences. A company that has successfully targeted millennials via podcasting is MeUndies. It targeted a multitude of smaller podcasts like My Favorite Murder and Bill Burr's Monday Morning Podcast and paid the presenters to actively pitch the "world's most comfortable underwear" at the start of their shows.

Having a podcast host actively promote your product is one thing, but offering your services as a guest is another. As an entrepreneur, you likely have unique business insights that could be worth sharing with a wider audience. So, look out for podcasts that you could potentially be featured on, and make yourself the selling point. Not only is this cost-effective, but it can also provide great exposure to your business, as podcasts often turn up in Google search results and can help improve trust in your business.

If you don't have time to devote to outreach to podcasts, companies like Task Drive can do the outreach for you, building up lists of potential targets. You can also use sites like Fiverr to find part-time outreach specialists.

Native advertising

If you're determined to avoid the potential ire of millennials in the first place, you might wish to try native advertising. This is a form of paid ads, where your ads are designed to match the style of the host content. Native ads are common in social media and blog feeds or as recommended content on certain webpages. In contrast to other types of web advertisements, native ads are designed to look more natural and not be overly sales-y.

A good example is the native advertisement that Altran engineering did by producing a video on the Financial Times. The video told the story of university students competing in a competition run by Elon Musk's company SpaceX. The students are helped by Altran staff, which is how the company gets to advertise itself. What is ingenious about this effort is the way the video is presented. It's more of a news story with a compelling narrative than a direct advertisement. The viewer might actually mistake who is being promoted: Altran or SpaceX?

Sponsoring YouTube videos

Video is some of the most heavily consumed content online, and in this context YouTube has become an advertising behemoth. Running a YouTube channel isn't easy, however; and recently, YouTube has made it harder for content creators to earn a substantial income from their advertisements on the site.

Therefore, creators are looking toward corporate sponsorship to generate revenues. LootBox is perhaps one of the most ubiquitous YouTube video sponsors (although not without controversy).

YouTube video sponsorship is a one-off commitment and you can find willing partners on sites like Collabspace. By finding a video creator that suits your niche, you can grow awareness of your brand and target people who fall into a very specific age band.


Selling your products or services to millennials comes with a unique set of hazards. By being sincere with your message, and experimenting with different channels, until you can dig into one that works, you just may find yourself growing your business without the need for vast marketing budgets.

Related: Hitting the Marketing Email Sweet Spot With Millennials (Infographic)

And those millennials? They'll be more than happy to help promote your product if they think it's worth their time.

Thomas Smale

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder of FE International

Thomas Smale co-founded FE International in 2010. He has been interviewed on podcasts, blogs and also spoken at a number of industry events on online businesses, exit strategy and selling businesses.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Growing a Business

Want to Expand Your Market Overseas? Here's Everything You Need to Know About Global Logistics in 2024

With rising geopolitical tensions and changing market conditions it can be hard for businesses to navigate supply chain logistics even in a post-pandemic world. Here are three tips from the CEO of an international customs brokerage.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Thought Leaders

How to Become a Successful Social Entrepreneur

It's not the same as being a great business person.

Business News

Kickstarter Is Opening Up Its Platform to Creators and Making Big Changes to Its Model — Here's What's New

The company noted it is moving beyond traditional crowdfunding and making it easier for businesses to raise more money.

Business News

Elvis Presley's Granddaughter Fights Graceland Foreclosure, Calls Paperwork 'Forgeries'

The 13.8-acre estate was scheduled to be sold in a public foreclosure auction on Thursday. Presley's granddaughter and heir, Riley Keough, is fighting to save Graceland in court.


What Franchising Can Teach The NFL About The Impact of Private Equity

The NFL is smart to take a thoughtful approach before approving institutional capital's investment in teams.