If It’s Millennials You Seek, Say Goodbye To The Eighties

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One week ago, attendees at the ANA Multicultural Marketing & Diversity Conference in Miami Beach were privy to powerful consumer insights, the latest in shopper trends, and some cool creative designed to appeal to Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans.


There was also a lot of focus on millennials, and Gen Z consumers. One session was even titled “The Multicultural Millennial Effect – How Big of A Deal Is This?”

It’s a very big deal if you’re a radio broadcasting company. But, the spark for this column didn’t come from this conference’s panel discussion. Rather, it came from Trivia Night at a craft brewery in Delray Beach, Fla. It was here that it became very clear that for radio to win, it must let go of the 1980s … and we’re not just talking about the music.

Here’s something every radio station owner or manager should do: Find a local Trivia Night in your community, and participate either solo or with a team of people. We did this over a period of three weeks, joining a wildly diverse team of men and women ranging in age from 25 to 45. We won’t share the age of RBR+TVBR’s Editor-in-Chief.

We don’t need to. That’s because his music knowledge gives it away. As the younger team members easily answered questions about Marvel characters and marine biology (two of the team members work in the field), everyone was stumped when the peppy tune with the following lyrics came on:

Can you hear them / They talk about us / Telling lies / Well, that’s no surprise 

Our editor-in-chief was astonished. This was “Our Lips Are Sealed” by the Go-Go’s.

“How can you all not know this song!” he exclaimed.

The only other individual over 35 mainly listened to Classic Rock. The rest of the team members weren’t born when that song came out, or were in diapers.

This scene was repeated across three different nights, with songs instantly familiar to our editor-in-chief stumping millennial after millennial. “Solid” by Ashford & Simpson was incorrectly placed in 1968 by one team member. The song was released 33 years ago this week.

The team member making the error is 27 years old.

Later that evening on the 40-minute drive home, our editor-in-chief Adam R Jacobson scanned the dial. One station after the other was playing music from the 1980s.

That’s when the bolt of lightning struck.

The Oldies Wheel I created at Radio & Records is still valid. It’s just that radio broadcasters are scared of what they lived through 25 years ago, and are scared of their own aging.

Sorry, but Adam has a point. At the 2016 Radio Show, his first in more than a decade, he couldn’t help but share that he felt like the youngest person in the room — at 44 years old. He even chronicled a very enlightening conversation about music and radio that randomly transpired with two 21-year-olds at the Nashville event. The conversation wasn’t very flattering about radio. But, it was important insight.

Flash-forward to today: Nov. 14, 2017. Today’s 30-year-old was born when Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now” was No. 1 and Dirty Dancing was a box office phenomenon.

They were 10 years old when “Mo Money Mo Problems” by the Notorious B.I.G. hit the top of the charts.

They were 15 years old when “Lose Yourself” by Eminem replaced Nelly and Kelly Rowland at the top of the charts.

“Now you get why my teammates don’t know the Go-Go’s,” Adam says.

Wait, it gets worse Radio C-Suiters: When today’s 30-year-old was celebrating their 21st birthdays, Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)” was No. 1.

Yes … “All the single ladies” is an Oldie to the millennial, and Gen Z is familiar with it because they were freshmen in college when that song reached the top.

This is where we yield the rest of the column to Adam:

We’ve read a lot about millennials. We’ve read a lot about how radio reaches so many consumers. But, there’s a disconnect between reaching millennials and Gen Z and truly connecting with them. Marketers crave this audience. Thus, Top 40 formats proliferate, as this is the easiest way to reach them.

Then, there is Classic Hits, and Classic Rock, and AC. That’s where we get their parents, or perhaps some coalition listening, because of the “nostalgia” factor.

Well, the Oldies Wheel somehow, somewhere, got stuck. In 1994, the Oldies Wheel demonstrated that there was a 25-year window for musical nostalgia. By 1995, the 1960s were being phased out in favor of 1970s music. At the same time, CHR/Pop and Hot AC stations were struggling to come out of a terrible five-year period for current music and a Persian Gulf War-enhanced economic malaise that severely hurt the radio broadcasting industry.

How many of you recall those days? I’m willing to bet all of you. This explains the aversion to going back to those “ugly” times with a radio station that relives the pain and horror of having to play “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” and “End of the Road” 30 times a week for months.

What’s the solution? Hire a millennial for the job.

If marketers and brand managers want millennials, radio needs to bring them into the fold. They need to be hired in programming, and in sales, and in marketing. They need to be more than “The Instagram and Snapchat Kid.”

Millennials don’t sit there and say to themselves that “No Scrubs” can’t be on the same radio station as No Doubt. They’ll probably love a selection from Tango In The Night by Fleetwood Mac thrown in there, too, since every woman between 21 and 26 in South Florida worships Fleetwood Mac (based on this unscientific poll conducted between 2013 and today).

I could go on, but I’m no programmer. I’m just a wordsmith with a passion for building brands. Radio broadcasting companies own brands, yet few of them are designed to attract the brands that are so eagerly wanting to connect with the biggest segment of consumers out there: millennials.

Yeah, Top 40 is fine. But, there’s more — there’s nostalgia and those “old school” tunes.

Gen Z and millennials are no different than us. Everyone loves an “old school” tune. For them, “old school” is Backstreet Boys, or Rage Against The Machine, or Oasis, or Real McCoy.

Handing the keys over musically is just the start. Once that’s done, get a millennial to develop your brand. This includes a hip logo, and moving beyond social media to create a 360-degree brand that is no different from Apple, or Netflix, or Amazon. It’s interactive, it’s entertaining, it’s connective and fun, and it can be a tool to bridge all of that childhood fun to the realities of today.

“Childhood” for the heart of the 18-34 demographic is Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and the Black Eyed Peas.

Radio, it’s time to put “a ring on it.” Say goodbye to the Go-Go’s if you want millennials, and say “Hello” to Martin Solveig.

By the way, that song will be eight years old in January.


What are your thoughts? Is ‘Gen X’ serving this audience, or perhaps attempted with little success? “Don’t have your 50-year-old white guy also programming the Alternative or Classic Rock station oversee it,” Adam says, bluntly. Is he just blabbing, or does he have a point? Sound off now by e-mailing RBR+TVBR at [email protected].

Struggling to figure out why this column is here? It’s Adam’s belief that radio broadcasters can do more to bring in the dollars devoted to millennials by having them run the show at radio stations designed to appeal to them. What does that mean? It could mean a station that sounds like this: https://open.spotify.com/user/12148775063/playlist/3PuFUuyWqOWHOrPZgt87Sy

Note: This was created as an example of what might work in a market such as San Diego. Localism matters with millennials, and playlists should reflect where the audience is located. 


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