Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Millennial Generation: How Ford Is Ahead of the Curve in Understanding Us

If you can remember watching any of these TV shows while growing up, then you, my friend, are a millennial. Welcome to the club! We should get some t-shirts made up.

Many companies have written off the millennial age group because they see us as too young or immature, but Ford Motor Company has done the opposite. They’re hoping to attract this age group (that means those of you between the ages of 16 and 32 years old) with their new car designs. More on that later, though. Let’s look over a bit of research on this age bracket to gain some insight into how Ford and other companies should better market to them.

The baby boomer generation (people between the ages of 46 and 64 years old) slowly warms up to new technology, whereas millennials rapidly latch onto it for dear life. According to Shane Steele, Twitter’s director of sales marketing, third-party research tells us that 55% of Twitter users fall into the millennial category, as compared to 40% of the rest of the internet. That’s a big chunk of a pie going to only a group that consists of a sixteen-year age range!

So why are millennials so obsessed with technology and social media? For starters, we’ve watched Mark Zuckerberg build one of the world’s most valuable and powerful companies, which just so happens to be a social network. Second of all, we have seen the influence of organized groups and individuals via social networking, and that has given us a sense of empowerment for ourselves. After all, many millennials embody the can-do spirit (if you’re a part of this group, then you know the “Little Engine That Could” story that has been crammed into our brains since kindergarten). Also, we love the sense that we’re always connected to the world around us, and both technology and social media allow us to experience that.

Millennials and cell phones

The average Millennial would rather lose a wallet than a cell phone.

However, we don’t necessarily correlate success with what kind of car we’re driving or with the jewelry or clothing we’re wearing. Instead, we feel little shame in telling our family and friends: “I rented this” or “I borrowed that.” That’s why companies like Netflix and GameStop are so wildly popular with us, since you don’t have to own a movie or game in order to enjoy it. We’re able to keep it for however long we want and then trade it back for something else when we get bored.

Even more outrageous is the startling statistic that we no longer view getting our driver’s licenses as a rite of passage into adulthood, and that many millennials are actually waiting longer to get them. That’s because we no longer need to drive somewhere in order to hang out with friends; social networking and smart phones allow us to text or chat with buddies whenever we want. According to Ford Motor Co. futurist Sheryl Connelly, “[t]he average millennial would rather lose their wallet than their cell phone because their cell phone contains much more valuable information and resources.” I agree with this statement because I rarely carry cash (always just my debit card), and I have so many contacts in my phone that it would take days to replace them.

Now, that being said, here’s how Ford Motor Company is responding to this new and evolving consumer market, according to Ad Age. There are several key points that will get millennials interested in Ford’s cars over the competition’s:

Uniqueness: It’s no secret that millennials like to stand out from their peers and make a statement, sometimes with tattoos or piercings. Taking this into consideration, Ford will allow consumers to choose the colors and patterns inside and outside of their vehicles (and yes, actual “tattooing” is also an option for cars). We don’t want to drive a car that’s just like other cars on the road; we want to view our cars as reflections of our own personalities.

Strong connection: Unlike in other age categories, millennials don’t consider cars the primary symbol of freedom and expression. What takes that spot? Our cell phones, of course. Car connectivity is so common that it’s become a standard feature. Ford knows that we’re so used to having information at our fingertips that even other data (like up-to-date weather and real-time traffic) must also be readily available in the car in order for it to get our attention.

Millennials and video games

Video game technology in cars? Millennials will love it.

Gaming up the dashboard: Millennials can’t get enough of video games; it’s in our blood. (Note: playing Sonic the Hedgehog on my friend’s SEGA Genesis is one of my earliest memories). As a result of this mentality, it’s only natural to include gaming dynamics into the way cars are designed. Before you get too excited, know that you won’t be seeing Call of Duty on dashboards anytime soon! Instead, Ford has supposedly incorporated a video-game-like smart gauge into many of their cars; the gauge shows driver efficiency via a visual display of leaves and flowers that either grow or shrink. Are you ready for the real “OMG” moment? This efficiency game can be played against one or more people to see who can grow the biggest leaves and flowers. When I was learning to drive, just being able to work the cruise control was enough excitement for me to handle!

Human responses, please: Ford has also noticed that millennials expect that human touch, now more than ever. When we mention a brand on Twitter or Facebook, we like to hear from a real person and not an automated response system. Individual responses are key, no matter the day or time. While this may seem like a headache for social media marketers, the hassle is well worth it! Millennials will reward the genuine responses with retweets or social shares to encourage their friends to also check out brands like Ford.

Sharing is caring: As briefly mentioned above, we share content that we think is cool and genuine, whether it’s a friend’s Facebook status or a brand’s new contest. Ford recognizes this trend and watches the Twitter dashboard to see exactly which content is being shared the most and which search terms and hashtags bring the greatest number of millennials to their company’s pages. They understand the technology millennials use on a daily basis and they’ve found ways to successfully track it, which is more than most brands have done. Instead of getting scared and running away, Ford has jumped right on board with us. Smart move!

Instead of ignoring the millennial age bracket like many other companies have done, Ford has taken their research and done something productive with it. They’ve actually found out many of the elements that make our group tick, and they used it to create a car for us instead of chucking the research because they didn’t agree with it. They’re pretty accurate in their assumptions so far, at least according to this particular millennial. The risk may not be worth it for other companies to undertake, but hopefully for Ford it will pay off!

Do you agree/disagree with the ways Ford hopes to attract millennials? Do you think they’re accurate or do they miss the mark? Sound off below!


Bubba is the Quality Logo Products mascot. He may have started out as "just a stress ball," but he's come a long way since the company's launch in 2003. Bubba has been immortalized in numerous vector artwork designs for internal and external promotions, and you can see him change outfits on the Quality Logo Products homepage whenever a holiday rolls around. Oh, and he thinks pants are for the birds. You can connect with Bubba on


  1. Mandy Kilinskis

    Wow! I had no idea that Ford was so hip to “understanding” the Millennials! I have to give them props for taking our generation trends into consideration.

    But touching on the “we want to rent it and then trade it in mentality,” did any of your research show that Ford is leaning more on leasing and less on buying?

    P.S. I would much rather lose my wallet than my cell phone – that’s so true! But I’ll stick with keeping a close eye on both.

    • amy

      It really surprised me as well Mandy, I always just thought of Ford as ‘Fix or Repair Daily’. However, from what I’ve read in Consumer Reports their vehicles have become better and more reliable.

      From my research, I didn’t read anything about additionally promoting leasing their cars. But now that you say that, it would make sense for them to keep in line with the idea of our generation’s fascination with renting.

  2. Eric

    Oh, boy…a Ford post.

    Sorry to say I disagree with them. Big time.

    Ford trying to be hip is plain laughable. I’ll always remember the midnight showing I saw of “Casino Royale.” Being a James Bond film, it was a movie theater full of guys. Literally. Testosterone City. If you wanted a focus group for cars, well, you couldn’t ask for a better one than that.

    I remember hearing – prior to the film – Ford planned to premiere their new model in the movie. Well, some minutes in, the scene cuts to a shot of Bond driving. He’s going fast, too, it looks like. The camera cuts to an exterior shot, with a well-placed “Ford” emblem visible in the front grille. And…

    Hysterical laughter.

    Not to say their efforts are completely a waste. They’ve their moments. Perhaps the smartest thing they’ve managed to come up with, here, is taking the competitive spirit and graphic appeal of video gaming and applying it to vehicular efficiency. Dashboard-accessible, real-time weather and traffic I wouldn’t mind having myself. I don’t anything would refuse those options. They lose me after that.

    My only problem with Ford (I drive one and am going to be biased no matter how hard I try) is their focus on the image and aesthetic. My fear is their use of it to appeal to a younger audience that too easily falls for novelties like “tattoo” personalization.

    The cars look good. Their design in the past ten years has turned around 360 degrees. They may have their moments, but they certainly have no priorities. Their quality of manufacturing just isn’t the same as it used to be. In this economy, at this time? There’re bigger problems to solve.

    Fuel efficiency. Durability. If they could bring down their price point, throw out all the unnecessary bells and whistles, and deliver something that doesn’t require a fill-up every other day, or a tune-up every other month…For would be onto something.

    No worries…we’re still cool, Amy. Great article, and I’m sure this one will create some conversation!

    • amy

      Phew, I’m glad we’re still cool Eric. I’d hate to lose you over a Ford post 😉

      My family hasn’t ever been a Ford family, so I really don’t know much about them except from what I read (I’m currently in the car-buying market so I’m religiously reading all the information possible LOL). I think they’re one of those brands that you either love or love to hate. I have a friend from college that desperately wanted a Ford Mustang, whereas other people absolutely despise them.

      Thanks for your input Eric, you have some excellent points that I never would have considered. Especially your fear about appealing to a younger audience could mean less interest is given to more important features (fuel efficiency, durability, and safety).

    • Amanda

      I see what you’re saying Eric. I don’t think the tattooing thing is necessary either, but hey, if that’s what people want, I think it’s a cool, cute, and pretty cheap option to set them apart from the other companies. In my opinion, Fords have always been reliable….so as long as they keep that up, I feel these stylish additions will only help them stay modern and current for the future. I am glad that Ford is taking these steps–even though most of it is unneccessary and unappealing to me, for my own car.

      • amy

        If a sixteen year old wants a tattoo on their car, I say go for it! I agree with you Amanda that it is nice Ford gives you the option 🙂

  3. JPorretto

    I INSTANTLY recognized how much Ford was marketing to the market you’ve mentioned. I’m actually very impressed with all the gadgetry in their vehicles. I would’ve considered buying one, but I’m less impressed with the vehicles themselves…. but still, their marketing is spot on!

    • amy

      Reading their research I found myself nodding along with it:
      > I know I didn’t rush right out and get my license, I think I waited like 2 months.
      > I’d hate to lose my cell phone over my wallet
      > I need to have a constant link to information- I’m always the one asking questions that friends have to ‘google’ the answer to on their smart phones LOL.
      I can’t wait to hear how their profits did after a year with these cars on the road!

      • Amanda

        I’m shocked Amy! I honestly did not realize that people were waiting to get their licenses. Everyone I know, including myself, rushed to get their license as close to their 16th bday as possible. That was all I wanted that year for my birthday. I have always loved loved loved to drive (even go karts when I was little, lol). I’d be more devastated to lose my wallet than my cell phone. It’s such a hassle to get a new license, call your credit card companies, bank, etc. If I lost my cell phone (don’t forget, mine cost $10, lol) I’d FB message people and get their number again and put it into my new $10 phone, lol. A hassle, but not a huge deal to me. I guess I’m weird–an old soul I suppose, something like that!

  4. Joseph Giorgi

    Looks like Ford is all about OUR generation now! I’ve got to admit — that’s kinda cool to hear.

    I drive a Ford myself. Actually, I’ve driven the same Ford for about seven years now, and up until just recently, I’ve had no problems with it whatsoever. I wouldn’t say that I’m a brand loyalist, but it’s nice to know that the brand I’m driving is reliable.

    (Then again, maybe I just lucked out. Word on the street has traditionally been that Fords aren’t the most reliable vehicles out there. But I digress.)

    Anyway, I love how you’ve outlined some of the major new features that Ford is initiating these days. Looks like they’ve definitely done their homework. I’ve been happy with my car for the past several years, so when it comes time for me to enter the market for a new (or “newish”) car, I’ll be sure to check out what Ford has to offer.

    Stellar post, Amy! 😀

    • amy

      Thanks Joe! The new features seem really cool, it may be worth a test drive just to check them out!

  5. Jill Tooley

    Ford deserves a pat on the back for their efforts! It seems like a no-brainer to market to millennials, but not when you consider all of the complicated things going on in their brains. I agree with Eric that the tattoos are a bit over the top (almost seems like they’re trying too hard) but maybe they’re meant for the younger end of our generation and not the older end. 16-year-olds may opt for crazy designs on their cars, but at my age I think it’s best to stick to more traditional customization options. 😉

    Kudos to them for trying, though! Their research is pretty accurate on some of the points, like what we look for via brand interaction, but they could still improve on a few things. It’ll be neat to see what they come up with as research changes (as it always does)!

    • amy

      I know Scion (owned by Toyota) is geared towards younger drives too and offer easier to build customized models. They used to, I’m not sure if they still follow this business model, but you choose the basic model and choose what you want to add: stereo equipment, customized interiors, etc. However, by the time you added everything you wanted you still ended up with a $23,000 car instead of a $16,000 one 🙁

      I’m with you though and giving major props to them for at least trying and taking the time to research this market! +5 points for Ford’s effort!

  6. Amanda

    Nice post Amy! As an avid American Idol watcher, I learned some of these things about Ford a few years back–Ford partnered with A.I. to do a weekly commercial with the contestants, and from seeing those videos I knew that Ford was doing their best to appeal to the younger drivers with their new modernized and “hip” cars.

    Growing up with my dad being a car shop owner & mechanic, and now being married to a mechanic—my thoughts about cars have not changed. The main thing people don’t realize is that no matter the brand or make of a car, the most important thing about it’s reliability is regular maintenance, by a skilled mechanic–instead of that quick lube place on the corner. If you take great car of your car–it will take you a long, long way. We’ve had cars go over 300K that we end up having to junk because of the rust–that still start and go perfectly! Cars will run sooo long if you take care of them.

    My opinions on the new things Ford is doing is: more power to them. I am glad that an American car company is really revitalizing themselves to become more modern, fuel efficient, and keeping up with the foreign companies. I think the problem with American car brand vs foreign ones is that people have changed what they desire somewhat in cars–and American companies were a little too late in the game–but now Ford is playing some catch up. But as long as they keep their cars reliable, as in my opinion, they always have been, they will keep going higher in the future. Well done Ford. And super post Amy! =)

  7. Bret Bonnet

    I’d buy a Ford again if my VERY first car, when I was 16, that of which was a 2001 Ford Mustang (V6 Only), didn’t have the engine block catch on fire while driving on I-55 within the cars first 28 miles recorded on the odometer.

    Spend all the money you want on marketing Ford… I’m sticking with walking to work (in a fire retardant suit)!


    • amy

      Oh no! I could totally see how an experience like that would leave a bad taste in your mouth with an entire company!! I don’t think anyone could blame you there, yikes.

Leave a Comment

Copyright 2003 - 2019 Quality Logo Products, Inc., Registration No. TX7-524-201. All Rights Reserved.