Misunderstood ‘millennials’ examined in ad agency’s ‘new family’ study

Advertising group DDFH&B’s research uncovers conflicting views on change

Miriam Hughes, chief executive of DDFH&B group, at its offices in Dublin: firm’s study examined “the new family” of Ireland. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Miriam Hughes, chief executive of DDFH&B group, at its offices in Dublin: firm’s study examined “the new family” of Ireland. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


The statement “Younger people have more in common with younger people around the world than they do with older generations in Ireland” would make for a weighty debate motion. As a research finding, it has consequences for how advertising creatives target younger Irish consumers.

“Millennials” – typically those born between 1980 and 2000 – are just one of the generations that have been put under the microscope by communications group DDFH&B as part of its research into “the new family”. But they are possibly the most misunderstood generation, it believes.

“They do get misrepresented a lot, with claims they are narcissistic and self-absorbed,” says DDFH&B chief executive Miriam Hughes. “But this generation just happens to have a lot of technology in their hands compared to previous ones.”

Millennials are merely living in an era that allows them to display themselves more publicly than was possible before.

DDFH&B’s research, a mix of 10 focus groups with people across Ireland and a quantitative survey of more than 1,000 people, endeavours to distinguish between traits that are typical of the young and those that are specific to this generation.

Ireland has changed

There is some inter-generational conflict, Hughes says. Technology has exposed millennials to a higher volume of peer-to-peer interaction than any previous generation and it has shaped their perspective.

“Sharing culture tends to be global,” she notes. But that doesn’t mean brands can forget all about localising global campaigns. They still need to sense-check their advertisements for how they will be translated by different cultures.

One company that did adapt a campaign for the Irish market back in 2013, to some criticism, was Coca-Cola. It decided to omit a gay wedding scene from the Irish version of its “Reasons to Believe” ad, citing the fact that gay marriage was not legal in Ireland at the time.

This May’s “Yes” vote points to an Ireland that is “inclusive and fair”, Hughes says. But she believes brands now “need to be careful about just showing gay couples randomly” in their imagery. If ads start to look tokenistic and contrived, they won’t succeed in connecting with their intended audience, and may actually irritate it.

DDFH&B’s study of “the new family” has been a big project for the group, with the aim being to discover “what Irish people are worried about, what are their beacons of hope, what are their parameters for living”, says Hughes.

Among the senior citizens surveyed, the women were consistently more progressive on sex, marital and gender equality issues than their male counterparts. The senior men, for example, were more likely to say that if one parent needed to stay at home to look after the children, it should be the mother, while they were also the least likely cohort to agree with the idea that marriage is an antiquated institution.

According to its survey, only 10 per cent of the Irish population grew up in a “non-traditional” family, but 43 per cent say their current family arrangement is non-traditional. (Traditional family was defined by the researchers as a married man and woman of the same race with at least one child, while non-traditional family was defined as a single parent, blended, inter-racial, co-habiting or same-sex.)

Many contradictions

Meanwhile, the “Inbetweener” generation – the group busy parenting millennials and “Generation Z” children – flit between embracing the positives of societal change and indulging in nostalgia for what they perceive as the simpler, safer world of their own childhoods. DDFH&B describes this as a “modern see-saw”.

Inbetweeners may be happy that the influence of the Catholic Church has waned and that gender roles are more fluid, but they also seek compensating guidance and stability from sources ranging from their own parents to mindfulness practitioners, says Hughes. “They’re looking to be more Zen in a world that has gone a little mad.”

Adjust your brand messages accordingly.