Fear is just an extension of the greater fear — one of dwelling too long inside one’s head, of having to think about reality. Do anything to get away, including using the smartphone and signing up for an experience event. Other millennials are doing it; why not you?

Maybe the most explosive recent experience is that of non-traditional running. In its 2014 State of the Sport report, Running USA reported a record 19 million finishers in 2013 US running events. It released a special report on non-traditional runs — mud runs, obstacle runs and color-themed runs — showing that in 2009, non-traditional runs were practically non-existent. But in 2013, non-traditional runs accounted for 4 million finishers. 

The most popular of these non-traditional runs are military wannabe Tough Mudder, Spartan Race and the Color Run, where racers are sprayed with paint. All these races are designed to quench a thirst for instant gratitude. Plus, they’re huge on social media. Tough Mudder earned more than 3 million Facebook likes in one month last year. Notice those ads for Tough Mudder on Facebook? Notice your millennial friend’s photos of her Color Run? They’re going because they want to forget reality. Then, they’ll share the photos and talk about the run because it keeps the fantasy humming. 

Even watching television is being sold as “experience.” Look at Netflix, Hulu and other streaming-video services. Why do they release every episode of a new show on one day? They’ve realized that millennials will sit on their couches for hours and binge on television, especially if everyone else is doing it. Pop on Netflix and drift away into the 13-hour fantasy of “House of Cards” in one sitting, as nearly 1 million people did in 2014, Netflix said. Millennials love fake politics; they don’t want to deal with real politics.

The hotel industry also is starting to discover the experience industry. Marriott International announced a partnership with Universal Music Group to host concerts at brand hotels featuring some of Universal’s most established and emerging talent. Marriott’s effort kicked off in London with a performance by British pop star Ellie Goulding.


Like Marriott — and like Chipotle, Netflix and so many others — smarter and savvier companies will adapt by reading how fear directs millennials’ spending habits and culture consumption.

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