Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

For millennials, useful is the new cool

Emily Metz Meredith Published on 11 June 2014

Heineken marketing scheme

The Animal Agriculture Alliance’s annual Stakeholders Summit was held in May. Every year at the alliance, when it comes to summit planning, we try to determine how to provide the most timely, insightful and relevant information to our attendees.



We try to present the issues of the day, those most pressing affecting our industry in unique ways. We try and think about things differently and hope to inspire all participants to do the same.

As you may know, our theme this year was “Cracking the Millennial Code,” which was especially fitting, given that millennials do just that: They – or should I say we – see things differently. We have our own view of the world, and if you asked each of us millennials what that view is, we’d probably each have a different answer.

It’s interesting, as a millennial, to hear so much about myself. It seems lately you can’t read a newspaper, a book or watch television without hearing about our generation and its influence. It’s been no secret that companies like Chipotle target this demographic with their marketing – be that for better or worse. As we’ve heard for years, consumers want transparency. I would argue that millennial consumers don’t just want transparency; they want honesty.

For us in agriculture, the opportunity here is to provide that honesty, but the question remains: What’s the best way to be honest … to tell our side of the story?

Our keynote speaker, Jeff Fromm, executive vice president at the Kansas City-based ad agency Barkley and author of the best-selling book: Marketing to Millennials: Reach the Largest and Most Influential Generation of Consumers Ever , had a few ideas on that.


Using examples of brands that communicate well with millennials, Fromm was able to help the audience understand the key to marketing to millennials: engagement.

As Fromm said: “You don’t have a target audience with millennials. You have a consumer as a partner.” According to Fromm, the entire model for traditional advertising has changed. Where in the past advertising agencies would come up with clever slogans and catchy jingles, now marketing executives are finding ways to partner with consumers to create content that they’ll share – you guessed it – with other millennial consumers.

“We live in a participation economy, and millennial-mindset consumers want to co-create the story with you,” explained Fromm. “It’s their story, and when they help create the story, they share it.”

Fromm told attendees they need to “embrace” the participation in order to make any headway with millennial consumers.

For me, this concept wasn’t all that new. As a millennial myself, I’ve long advocated for not just transparency – but honesty – and an opportunity to engage. One of our 2013 Stakeholders Summit speakers, Dallas Hockman with the National Pork Producers Council, argued more than a year ago that agriculture needs to stop using the word “educate” like a blunt-force instrument.

It’s not enough for us to get our message out there. Now we need to find opportunities to have meaningful conversations with consumers about meat, milk and eggs; look for opportunities to strengthen relationships.


We also, according to Fromm, need to look for “blue ocean ideas,” or in other words, we need to see the world a little differently – think outside the box; shake things up.

More than 69 percent of millennials consider themselves adventurous and appreciate brands that take risks as well.

For example, Fromm discussed Heineken’s revolutionary marketing scheme targeting those adventurous millennials. Heineken set up a roulette wheel in airports nationwide and asked travelers to spin the wheel for a chance to win a brand-new, all-expenses-paid vacation.

The catch? Risk-takers had to change their plans immediately and depart on their new, Heineken-sponsored vacation. You can watch what happens on YouTube by searching for “Departure Roulette.”

For Dollar Shave Club, another example highlighted by Fromm, the risk was in the avant-garde, irreverent and hysterical, only slightly obscene, commercial in which the narrator (the founder and CEO of the company) asks: “Are our blades any good?”

And responds: “No, our blades are great.” Trust me – our summit audience was in stitches, millennials and non-millennials alike. (Watch the full commercial on YouTube by searching for “Dollar Shave Club.” ( Editor’s note: Strong language advisory ).

Fromm told the audience that sitting around the table and suggesting a “blue ocean idea” is not easy. It’s not easy to have those conversations and to roll the dice on something new and different.

“But you need to think of the ideas, ask the questions and take the chances before someone else does,” said Fromm.

But perhaps the most illustrative example for me was when Fromm started discussing the Ball Jar Company with the audience, saying that Ball is 127 years old. My grandmother still cans tomatoes, sauerkraut and pickles using Ball jars. Her Ball jars are a family heirloom – yet, most millennials aren’t canning like my grandmother does.

So how did Ball Jar, a 127-year-old company, re-imagine their brand to make it relevant to the next generation? They thought of all the other things that a Ball jar could be used for and made a commercial showing people using Ball jars in new and creative ways.

The commercial doesn’t alienate consumers like my grandmother. It shows people using the Ball jar in the “original” way. But the brand also stepped outside of itself. Instead of forcing people who use Ball jars into one little box, they embraced the participation and showcased consumers’ own creativity with their product.

And it’s genius.

“If we only hug our traditionalists, we’re going to die,” said Fromm. “We have to figure out how to keep hugging our traditionalist consumers and appeal to a millennial mom.”

That’s exactly what Ball does, and it’s exactly what agriculture needs to do.

We need to figure out how to communicate and market to our traditionalists – to people who have always and will always consume meat, milk and eggs without hesitation or question.

Then we need to think outside the box and figure out how we entice millennials into participating with us in ag. Help answer their questions, share their recipes, use their content. We need to make millennials our partners instead of our adversaries.

Millennials like me aren’t some super-scary demographic. I believe we can crack this code, but we need to push the envelope further. It’s no longer good enough to have transparency. We need to have radical transparency: honesty.

My challenge to you is to listen – not to respond, but to understand. We millennials are a complex generation. We have a lot of opinions, and some of those opinions might be frustrating.

But if we in agriculture have any hope of cracking the millennial code, then we need to embrace that frustration, embrace those opinions and embrace those complexities, and figure out where we go next. We need to figure out how to empower and inspire millennials – both on and off the farm – to use their creativity.

We need to create partnerships across divergent groups. And we need to come up with some blue ocean ideas and be brave enough to risk failure in order to try them out.

Quite simply, we need to think differently. PD

Heineken targeted the more than 69 percent of millennials who consider themselves adventurous with a marketing scheme in which airport travelers were given the chance to ditch their current plans and win a brand-new, all-expenses-paid vacation. Screen capture courtesy of

emily meridith

Emily Metz Meredith
Communications Director
Animal Agriculture Alliance