Millennials are widely considered by marketers as the vital generation to engage in the digital age. It’s the generation that’s coming of age, primed for the latest technologies and with enough years ahead of them to make the long-term customers marketing dreams are made of.

There’s a problem, though. Study after study shows Millennials hate digital ads. Generation Y, as it’s otherwise known, grew up being bombarded with the worst of online ads and they’ve been held responsible for killing off a number of digital advertising techniques along the way. So can you really connect with Millennials through digital advertising or are they the impossible audience?


Actually, it turns out Mellennials aren’t that different

You don’t have to go far to find studies, reports and countless arguments to suggest Millennials hate ads. The truth is Millennials aren’t alone, though, and marketers are often guilty of focusing too much attention on Generation Y.

It turns out Baby Bloomers aren’t big fans of digital ads either and the younger Generation Z is equally sick of social media ads interrupting their experience. The reasons each generation is tired of these ads can vary but the consistent factor is ads hindering the digital experience for all age groups.


Ads are the problem, not Millennials

With that in mind we have to turn our attention away from generations and back to our advertising methods. We touched on the key word in all this above: interruption. The fact is most ads are still too invasive for user tastes and that’s a big turn-off for any consumer. The ad strategies and technologies are getting better all the time but the end result still leaves a lot to be desired.

The likes of Google and Facebook have a lot to answer for in this regard because they’re the ones that turned their platforms to inescapable ad carousels. It’s not entirely their fault, though, because they’ve proven their ads can be effective, engaging and useful for the end user in the right context.

Google and the key players in social still have a lot of work to do and they know this better than anyone. Constant updates to the AdWords system, Google products and ad delivery on Facebook and other networks show how hard they’re working to create ads users don’t hate. It’s in their interest, of course, because this is where they make their money

Something that’s much harder for these advertising giants to control is the quality of ads marketers publish on their platforms. Sure, they have control systems in place but there’s a limit to how restrictive they can be. The rest of the responsibility lies on us as advertisers.


Millennials do respond to advertising

The concept that Millennials or any other generation doesn’t respond to ads is a myth. Studies have also found Millennials are 112% more likely to share video ads over any other format and 23% more likely to enjoy ads that are relevant to them.


Millennials are 23% more likely to enjoy ads they find relevant – Unruly study


It’s hardly a revelation people are more likely to enjoy ads that are relevant to them – that’s the most basic principle of modern advertising. There’s also the fact that 36% of people still don’t realise AdWords Search ads are advertisements at all.


36% of people still don’t realise Google AdWords are ads – Econsultancy


You can’t turn around and say people hate ads when they don’t even realise they’re ads in the first place. And this is where the problem beings. People don’t like to know they’re being sold to or their data is being used to target them. They certainly don’t like their social or browsing experience to be interrupted by promotional spiel.


How to engage people with digital ads

As soon as we think of the word advertisement it’s all too easy to imagine direct sales pitches, hard selling and other pushy approaches. There’s still a place for those kind of ads but that’s a very targeted, high-intent user you want to be showing those to.

For the other users, who make up the vast majority, you need to take a different approach. Keep these pointers in mind:


  • Create ad campaigns for every stage of the buying process
  • Know how to target these users as they move from one stage to the next
  • Understand these users will be looking for different things at each stage
  • Find out precisely what they’re looking for and be one to provide it
  • Don’t go straight for the sales pitch; be useful first and guide people towards the finishing line
  • Know each platform you use, what kind of ads feel intrusive or interrupt the user experience and do what you can to make your ads feel like a seamless part of the journey


The basic principle will be the same for every generation: people don’t care what you’re selling, they’re only interested in what you can do for them. When someone is casually browsing their News Feed you’re probably not helping them by shoving products in front of their faces. You might, however, enhance their Facebook experience with a branded video that’s fun to watch and share. When someone types in the keyword “pizza recipe” into Google, you’re probably not helping them by displaying an ad for your store – but you might with an ad linking to your blog post about the best pizza toppings.

This distinction is important because you can target those users in other ways as they move along the buying process (AdWords remarketing after a user reads your article on pizza toppings, for example). And when they search for the best pizza places in your area, you know it’s time to hit them with your two-for-one offers, free delivery and more direct messages.