For Millennials, Brands Are People, Too

In the past few years, one of the more fascinating trends in marketing is how people have become brands. Obama won Marketer of the Year by Advertising Age in 2008 for heaven’s sake.

Millennials have embraced the notion of having a consistent and unique personal narrative online and offline, even if they don’t necessarily call it a ‘personal brand’.

Members of Gen Y strive to be awesome and distinctive. They make choices that are consistent with a set of personal values, even when they mean personal sacrifice. They are distinctive in the matter of face way they set audacious goals for themselves. Here is Alex Pearlman’s profile on The Next Great Generation Blog:

Alex Pearlman: I’m a 23-year-old journalism and philosophy student, I love the John Adams miniseries, Aaron Sorkin, and reading Time magazine in bed with a glass of red wine. My interests range from libertarianism to beer bongs to the New York Times crossword puzzle.This box will one day read: Alex Pearlman, Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent. Also, I’m the Editor in Chief of The Next Great Generation.

Colby Gergen also writes in the Next Great Generation blog, that he aspires to be great working within the education system to improve it for those who follow. “I understand many of us won’t see the immediate benefits, but it will help the strength of your program and you can come back to your school knowing you kickstarted a movement that affected hundreds or thousands of kids.” Gergen understands that aspiring to be ‘great’ may sound ‘cocky or arrogant’, but it’s really a way to ensure that he always strives to reach a high standard or goal – to be ‘awesome”.


Millennials want their iconic celebrity brands to strive to be awesome as well, to use their celebrity to effect change.

Bono and his ONE movement, to fight AIDs and poverty, resonates deeply with Millennials. The October 10 Rally to Restore Sanity by Jon Stewart and the simultaneously announced March to Keep Fear Alive by Stephen Colbert, are very consistent with this outlook and with their celebrity brands.

There was an immediate response to the announcement of the rallies on September 16. As of this morning, the Colbert march Facebook page indicated nearly 80,000 plan to attend. Arrianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, has even pledged to hire buses to take protesters to the rally.

Curiously, many Millennials were uncomfortable with Colbert’s appearance on Capitol Hill last week wearing his persona. They felt it was disrespectful and undermined his message. In fact, Alex Pearlman, in an Open Letter to Colbert and Stewart on TTNG, has called for Colbert and Stewart to attend their rally’s not as comedians but as people who are in a position to act as a force for change. She strongly argues that as unofficial spokespeople, they have an obligation to take this seriously.

No one thinks of you as “just comedians” anymore. And regardless of whether you’re ready for the responsibility (you’ve got it, like it or not), you have become the unofficial spokespeople for an entire generation that’s getting screwed by the system. We’ve been screaming about it in protest, but no one hears. Don’t come to the rally and disappoint us.

We want to hear what you have to say – really and truly – what your opinions are, without the bindings of a 22-minute program in search of ratings, ads and laughs. Laughter is great, yeah. But it’s not everything, and it doesn’t help keep Christine O’Donnell from having a serious chance at becoming a legislator (WTF).We are serious about fixing this country. And we hope you are too. You have the momentum and influence to seriously affect change. The choice is yours.

At heart, Millennials know that a brand is not really a brand unless it is authentic.  They do not think of their brands as something contrived, and they hold their celebrities to the same standards. This explains the appeal of Lady Gaga, who is a true original.

As two of the closest things to ‘spokepeople’ for this generation, Colbert and Stewart I think understand this.  If not, Friday’s news that CNN fired reporter, Rick Sanchez, over criticism of Stewart should underscore the fine line between comedy and real life.  They will need to ensure their true selves and comedic persona’s are carefully aligned to maintain that position.