February 14th typically gives advertisers the opportunity to appeal to consumers’ romantic side, marketing products and services through the themes of love, romance and togetherness. Digital banking company Revolut, however, ruffled a few feathers when it released a series of poster adverts using customers’ data to comment on their spending habits. One particular poster featuring the tag line, ‘To the 12,750 people who ordered a single takeaway on Valentine’s Day. You ok, hun?’ was accused of ‘single-shaming’ as well as misusing consumer data which it later admitted to be fake. Financial commentator Iona Bain was among those to criticise the ad, likening it to an “early 2000s Bridget Jones” era, as opposed to a “modern and empowered fintech brand” from whom a slightly less tone-deaf ad would be expected. As an app-based service who’s target audience is largely formed of the 22-36 year old group branded ‘millennials’, Revolut may wish to pay closer attention to these particularly savvy consumers.

Currently accounting for over a quarter of the population, millennials possess certain characteristics that set them apart from generations before them. When it comes to relationships, for example, a recent study found that 72% of those surveyed from this age group had made a conscious decision to stay single for a period of time. This suggests that millennials are questioning norms and societal problems as this behaviour counteracts the narrative traditionally presented to young people in which finding a partner and getting married are positioned high on the agenda and singledom is a state to be avoided, not desired.

Having grown up with the internet at their finger-tips, as well as increasing financial constraints, millennials are a particularly careful group of consumers. Research by YouGov found that this socially conscious demographic prefer to buy from companies they think ‘behave well’, and many use the technology integrated into their lives to shop smartly and ethically as well as to push back on advertising that does not align with their morals. This online activism was most recently fronted by actress and presenter Jameela Jamil who successfully contributed to having an Avon advert pulled after she publicly accused the brand of body-shaming.

The campaign released by the Army early this year fuelled further discussion about targeting millennials. Addressing their potential new recruits as ‘Snowflakes’ and ‘Me Me Me Millenials’, the campaign turned negative stereotypes of young people into positive qualities such as ‘compassion’ and ‘self-belief’, claiming that these would serve them well in the army. Critics of the campaign pointed out that young people are unlikely to self-identify as ‘snowflakes’, a negative label imposed on them by older generations, as well as questioning the pairings, as selfie taking among young people has often been linked to low self-esteem and insecurity, the very opposite of confidence. However, the number of applications to join the Army has apparently doubled as a result of the campaign.

And the Army campaign was at least original. Revolut compounded its off-message ads further by being unoriginal, in replicating a format previously used by other companies, most successfully Spotify who used customers’ data to produce a witty and topical commentary on their listening habits. Launched in 2016, Spotify’s ads make light of topics that resonate with young people, from Justin Bieber to Brexit, through lines such as “Dear 3,749 people who streamed ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It’ the day of the Brexit Vote. Hang in There”. As the campaign’s tagline optimistically progressed from “Thanks 2016, it’s been weird” to “2018 Goals”, it maintained a positive response by uniting individuals in their collective millennial habits. Where Revolut’s ad drew attention to people’s solitude, Spotify has been careful to avoid negative stereotypes while positioning its tone to appeal to its target audience.  

The lesson for brands targeting millennials is not new, but apparently still needs to be made clear: know your audience! Meanwhile the question to Revolut, in the light of their misfiring campaign, is simple: “You ok, hun?”