Reset: Millennials and their fears

New industries are emerging as businesses take advantage of the millennial generation’s greatest weakness: fear. 

Our largest generation fears reality, avoiding truth at any cost.

It has seen school shootings and police shootings on 24-hour cable news.

It has seen terrorist attacks.

It has lived through hard economic times.

It’s tired of being berated by the propaganda machine.

So what do millennials do? They spend more than five hours a day on social media, scrolling through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. They desperately share photos of everything they do because they fear consciously living in a poorer, more violent America, and they think removing themselves from issues means the issues will never find them. 

And along with burying their heads into their smartphones, they’re spending inordinate amounts of time re-creating childhood memories with a hefty serving of nostalgia. This has opened the door for the booming “experience” industry, which includes everything from arcade bars to binge Netflix marathons. Millennials are seeking the best experiences with the highest share factor — the ones they can remember for years. 

It’s all because millennials are afraid.


The American Psychological Association, in a 2014 study about stress, said millennials were more likely — at 36 percent of the respondents — than other generations to report an increase in stress from the previous year. Moreover, 34 percent of millennials reported a past-month increase of loneliness or isolation because of stress, the most of any generation.

Meanwhile, a 2014 American Press Institute survey found 88 percent of millennials receive information from Facebook, 83 percent get updates from YouTube, and 50 percent look to Instagram. And 56 percent of millennials, the survey said, visit Facebook daily for information. 

These two studies provide a foundation to understand the millennial. He/she is worried about not having money and is scrambling for work. But social media provide a daily, consistent connection with friends and family members. Staying connected and sharing life’s trivialities with others create a structure and allow millennials an alternative to the stress of reality.

Along with millennials’ incessant connectivity is a craving for the past. Childhood always looks better in hindsight, and for millennials, the past means a time without stress, without dealing with issues facing the world. 

In the Winter 2015 Trends Journal, we reported on millennials’ increasing romanticism with nostalgia. We hypothesized that the kitsch culture of the early 1990s would quickly come back into vogue. 

And, it’s happening: Streaming content provider Netflix announced a special reunion season of 1990s family-favorite sitcom “Full House.” A reboot of “Ghostbusters” is scheduled for 2016 release. The National Lampoon “Vacation” series is sadly being updated. “The O.C.,” a mediocre primetime soap opera popular among millennials in the early 2000s, will be turned into a theatrical musical. The biggest movie of 2015? A return to Jurassic Park. Even Pixar’s latest film foray is a journey through the power of nostalgia. “Inside Out” is the perfect film millennial parents can watch with their children.

But that’s not all. 

Jogger pants — rehashing parachute pants of the early 1990s — recently reached an apex, with major-label clothiers carrying the style in the spring. Layered tank tops on Spandex? That’s the early 1990s coming back to life in 2015. Plaid shirts? Grunge is back in style. 

Have you seen any of these arcade bars, also called “barcades”? They’re bars filled with arcade games from the 1980s and 1990s; flash right back to your happier past by diving headlong into a fantasy world of video games.

As millennials keep away from reality, this nostalgia kick to the late 1980s and early 1990s will be in vogue for the next few years. 


Remember Hamburglar, the chubby cartoon character endorsing fatty McDonald’s burgers? He’s back, but as a skinny 30-something model dressed in a cheap Halloween costume.

McDonald’s stooped to nostalgia while it wants to be a “modern, progressive burger company” that updates its image and adds variety to its menu. For example, customers in California can choose chicken or beef and one of four types of rolls from McDonald’s TasteCrafted menu. Big change, huh? The restaurant also rolled out a sirloin burger, using the refined, suave Hamburglar to help drive sales. 

The changes aren’t working. McDonald’s continues to report sluggish sales centered on a gradual decline of new customers.

Meanwhile, places like Chipotle and Shake Shack promote their food as “handcrafted” and “local-farm-supporting,” touting a lack of GMOs. Even if these chains sell sugary sodas and pack tons of calories into their food, millennials are fixated on the quality they’re selling. So they think eating a Chipotle burrito is an experience in itself. It’s shared on social media, talked about among friends and instantly beloved by a generation that craves any fantasy.

The best businesses are selling these experiences at a premium. The “experience” industry has quadrupled since 2011, says event-ticket website Eventbrite. It sees growth in events like concerts and food-and-drink festivals. Eventbrite surmised millennials were paying for these experiences because, as they scroll their social media feeds and see their friends having fun, they’re worried they’re not having as much fun. 


The millennial concern about being left out isn’t new. An early 2012 survey by J. Walter Thompson found that 70 percent of millennials agreed that they fear missing out on social happenings. And 54 percent of millennials said social media sites can catalyze that fear. 

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