Reaching the Unreachable Millennials

There seems to be a feeling these days that if advertisers are going to reach that super-elusive young, male audience they have to use the latest technology and trendiest advertising media to have a chance of getting their message across.

After all, the theory goes, like the rest of the technically super-literate, “millennials” are glued to their phones, tablets and other devices – so those are the only channels for grabbing their attention and getting branded messages through.

But recent research suggests that audiences are turning away from online advertising, where it interrupts their online activities. According to the Economist, more than 200 million people now run ad-blocking software. And analysis by Adobe and Pagefair suggests the problem is most extreme among younger audiences. In fact Pagefair claims that on some online video gaming sites, more than half of ads get blocked.

It’s been estimated that consumers receive more than 600 advertising messages a day from all sources, so it’s no surprise they operate in a state of what Ofcom termed “continuous partial attention.” And nowhere is that more true than among young men. They consume far less traditional media now, especially in real time. The latest research also suggests they are out and about 30 per cent more than a decade ago, while multi-tasking on social media. So how can advertisers cut through with relevant, branded messages, without triggering the opt-out that’s only ever a couple of clicks away?

Counter-intuitively maybe, an increasing number of advertisers are turning to carefully selected digital Out of Home media (in the real world or “IRL vs URL”), which can engage young men in bold and exciting ways while they out with their mates. The market has been growing at a compound 16 per cent per annum since around 2011, according to PQ media – faster than paid search. But it’s not enough just to broadcast messages.

Brands have to give consumers something in return : a reward, something sharable and engaging they will enjoy – ideally as a group. For example, Games developer Ubisoft recently launched a digital out of home campaign on London bus shelters to promote its new Xbox One fitness game “Shape Up”. The campaign used a mix of dynamic and linear content, with Transport for London bus information linked to Grand Visual’s OpenLoop platform, to set commuters physical challenges to complete before their bus arrived.

In-bar digital screens also provide scope for engaging guys on a night out. London firm Captive Media develops irreverent, branded video games filling one of the increasingly rare periods when male consumers have genuine “dwell time.”

In a high-profile campaign in the run up to the General Election, cancer charity Anthony Nolan sponsored a Captive Media game which used the fun of firing tomatoes at politicians as a way of engaging punters and then hitting them with a serious message about registering on their blood donor list. Guinness ran a MatchPint-branded video game during this year’s Six Nations Rugby Championship and DrinkAware has used a quiz to drive awareness of its key messages.

The novelty of the medium seems to produce higher levels of impact. Anthony Nolan gained 164,000 engagements and a 75 per cent uplift in donor registrations; Guinness’s game resulted in a 110 per cent rise in Guinness redemptions while DrinkAware gained a 41 per cent rise in unprompted awareness.

So it’s clearly possible to get through to young males. It’s just a matter of finding them at a time when they’re in a receptive mood and engaging them with an experience they love – with a brand wrapped around it – rather than forcing engagement with otherwise passive formats.