The idea of a traditional nuclear family – the married heterosexual couple living happily with their biological children – has heavily influenced American culture for the past several decades. Brand messaging around the family has, for the most part, remained equally outdated: consumers continue to see idyllic advertisements such as perfect families gathering for dinner, gleefully laughing as mom serves food on the table.
But, in recent years, there has been a cultural shift away from this old-fashioned ideology – a change primarily driven by younger consumers. Millennials are redefining what the family means, and this is influencing how they approach celebrating traditions, particularly during the holidays. This shift in mindset has created an opportunity for marketers to form relevant and meaningful connections with Millennials by considering the ways they are redefining and modernizing our notions of family, traditions and holidays.
The Rise of a Modern Family
Millennials – the most diverse generation in American history – are pushing away from the nuclear family ideology and gravitating towards a modern family model that is more flexible and unconventional. By understanding how the millennial perception of family is changing, marketers can develop smarter communication strategies that are culturally relevant and resonate with this target.
The rise of the modern family is primarily driven by two factors:
First, fundamental changes in the familial structure, led by the Millennial generation. Less than half of families today can be considered “traditional”:
- 4 in 10 children are born out of wedlock
- 34% of households are single-parent
- 1 in 7 marriages are interracial
- 69% more children live with same sex parents in the past 15 years
Second, expanding relationships and lifestyle changes have broadened modern definitions of “family.” Technology has amplified this shift by allowing Millennials – the first generation to be born and raised in the “always connected” era of the Internet – to stay closer to and sustain relationships with people who they care about but may not be accessible in their immediate network. It has also helped people gain perspective and become more accepting of different lifestyles beyond their own customs and communities.
Family is about Personal, Shared Experiences
Although technology allows Millennials to rapidly form relationships across a wide range of virtual and real life communities, familial bonds continue to be formed around intimate human connection and shared experiences. Family is more than just a group of relatives living together in a household or connected by blood – it has become a personal experience that can be shared with whomever they choose, and is often manifested through reinvented traditions and rituals.
Millennials are Making their Own Traditions
Many traditional family holidays are losing relevance, for reasons including:
- Lack of interest: Fewer Millennials are celebrating smaller, non-religious holidays like Valentine’s Day and Memorial Day
- Logistical difficulties: Only 3 in 10 Millennials planned to travel during Thanksgiving, likely due to the distance and/or cost of travel
- Expense and stress: 60% of Millennials cite financial concerns brought on by holiday spending as a major stress contributor, and 30% say anxiety levels rise during the holidays
Millennials’ acceptance of the modern family has made them more open to reinventing traditional holidays by creating new celebrations and traditions with the people they care for most.
For example, “Friendsgiving” – which provides all the frills of a Thanksgiving feast with none of the family awkwardness or drama – is celebrated by one out of five Millennials. “Galentine’s Day,” a spinoff of Valentine’s Day, eliminates the pressure of being in a relationship by simply celebrating friendship. These new traditions reflect Millennials’ rejection of conventional celebrations in favor of shared experiences with their modern families.
What Marketers Can Do Differently
Marketers have an untapped opportunity to help Millennials create vibrant and meaningful shared experiences, particularly when it comes to celebrating their new traditions. They can achieve this by:
1. “Owning” traditions that actually matter to Millennials. Rather than sticking to rigid seasonal holiday calendars or emulating competitors, marketers looking to connect with Millennials should closely evaluate whether their current communications around specific cultural moments are truly resonating or if they should try a new, more modern approach.
2. Finding ways to inspire this generation as they continue to deviate from traditional models. In planning for the launch of its limited edition Red Velvet flavored Oreo, the iconic cookie brand and 360i uncovered that Millennials feel Valentine’s Day is outdated for a generation that’s 75% single, and half of this group thinks the holiday is “overrated.” Oreo instead focused on giving everyone something to love with a humorous, video-based campaign – “Feel The Feelings”- that celebrated the beloved cookie among Valentine’s Day skeptics to transcend age, personality or relationship status.
3. Identifying opportune moments to connect with Millennials. Marketers should consider questions such as:
- What experiences does this target value, and with whom do they want to share them?
- How are Millennials redefining their celebration of holidays that they actually do care about?
- What new traditions are emerging, that present new opportunities for engagement?
- How does championing a tradition support the brand, and encourage this generation to share their experiences with others?
By supporting Millennials and the ways they are creating and reinventing traditions on their own terms, brands have the opportunity to own cultural moments that are most relevant and meaningful to Millennials, and grow fan love and loyalty along the way.
Cover photo via Apartment Therapy.
Celinne Da Costa, former Associate Strategist at 360i, authored this post.