How to market to millennials

The Trade Desk trading specialist Stella Xu
By The Trade Desk trading specialist Stella Xu | 30 October 2018

The modes and methods by which we consume media has been upended in the past 10 years – especially for young people. The definition of what a millennial is varies but for me, it’s defined less by an age bracket and more by a mindset. Millennials prefer digital environments, are always “on” and are native users of the internet. For these young people, the one-size-fits all approach to media consumption simply doesn’t fly.

As a programmatic media trader and a millennial, I have my fingertips on the pulse of what is really resonating with this demographic. As I track the performance of campaigns in real-time, I can see on an hourly basis what is working – and what isn’t. Based on what I have seen from these campaigns, I believe that three key factors are necessary in reaching millennials - digitisation, personalisation and optimisation.


If you’re a millennial living in the developed world, the research clearly shows you are most likely to favour YouTube over Linear TV, Spotify over radio, browsing online news over reading the paper, and social media over pretty much everything.

Research from Boston Consulting Group found that with growth of the sharing economy, many millennials prefer to get access to goods and services such as rides and housing without the hassle of actual ownership. The same study also found that millennials will check actual customer reviews of products before purchasing any items and are more engaged in activities like rating products and services online than non-millennials (60% vs 46%).

To date, advertising has been slow to recognise this fundamental shift. In 2013 the average amount of time per day spent online surpassed the amount of time spent watching TV, yet it took until 2016 for digital advertising spend to surpass linear television spend in the US.

Even as millennials decline to pay for cable TV or turn off the radio, the demand for content is as strong as ever. The younger generations are finding their favourite content beyond the confines of traditional media. As such, it is important to allocate your marketing and advertising budgets to the most effective strategies for reaching your millennial consumer base.

If you’re targeting millennials, focus on finding them where they are viewing content. The best ways to influence these users is by telling the same story in different ways. The Trade Desk, an omnichannel platform, tracks the whole user journey from the first video ads they watch on mobile devices to the last display ads they see on their PC before making a purchase.


I’ve noticed a few studies recently that suggest millennials are indifferent to many types of digital advertising. I think that the reason for these results is because the way marketers advertise to millennials, particularly in the digital sphere, is just plain wrong. Who enjoys repeated retargeting, irrelevant ads, those irritating “homepage takeovers” that take forever to shut down? I certainly don’t and neither, I imagine, do most other millennials.

It boils down to millennials wanting to be engaged on a personal level. My view, which I’ve developed after monitoring the browsing habits of millions of Aussie millennials, is that millennials don’t hate advertisements at all – provided they are both interesting and relevant.

For me, relevant is the key word. Marketing that is targeting to the right person, in terms of bringing them a service or good that they actually want or need, is the most important factor in determining whether your campaign sinks or swims.

So how do you figure out if a millennial actually wants or is open to looking at what you’re selling? The answer is data. When you trade media programmatically, you can overlay all sorts of key data that allows you to target the right person at the right time. Similarly, our own lookalike modelling capabilities at The Trade Desk help you target internet users who are highly likely to be interested in your product, based on habits we’ve observed across hundreds of thousands of similar users.

For example, we recently conducted a study that revealed a significant correlation between young adult fans of rugby league and young adults seeking new credit cards. If you are a bank marketing new financial products, this information could be invaluable.


Millennials live in an information booming age, with a plethora of content from all directions contributing to an attention span which is getting shorter and shorter. That means that once you’ve passed the first step of only showing ads that are relevant to a particular user, you have to pass the next step of engaging that user.

That’s where native advertising comes in. Last year we ran a native campaign for a global pharmaceutical company for its new line of cold and flu treatments. Instead of pushing users directly to a product introduction or purchase page, the ads took users to a page with useful tips on preventing and fighting the seasonal flu.

This campaign showed an extremely strong CTR (click-through rate) and excellent page engagement – a good proportion of users actually clicked to multiple other pages of the advertisers’ site, rather than landing on the intended page and leaving.

For simple display ads, the look and feel of the creative makes a large difference to engagement levels as well. A more original or clever creative generally yields a higher engagement rate. Interstitials and rich media plays ads provide the opportunity for the viewers to interact with the ad by taking a short quiz or playing a game. We see excellent engagement results with these types of creatives.

Ad environments are just as important. Our data shows that audio and connected TV ads have a strong completion rate performance compared to traditional video ads.

What to take away

Creativity and innovation have never been more important. Even at the inception stage, advertising professionals need to think about how their ads can be conceived and designed so they are delivered in the most engaging and effective way.

If you could be sure that your ad was going to be in front of the right person, at the right time, in the right frame of mind, what would you say to them? That’s the audience programmatic advertising can deliver, especially when it comes to viewers as connected as millennials.

The Trade Desk trading specialist Stella Xu

comments powered by Disqus