Why Brands Fall Flat With Millennials

5 Brands, 5 Issues, 1 Conclusion

Marketers have long been scratching their head when it comes to Millennials. Everyone wants a piece of this elusive target market unicorn but no one can seem to agree on how to retain them. It is not surprising. I mean Millennials are a diverse group of consumers. Rappler, a social news network ran a campaign asking people to describe millennials in one word and this is what they got:

It seems that we need to reach a group who are in general brand ‘loyalists’ yet ‘impulsive’ and ‘free’. Not easy, is it?

Fret not. While this group can be diverse and even confusing, the one thing they generally have in common is their use of social media. Over 90% of Millennials use social media and over a third of them claim this to be their preferred channels for communicating with businesses. As such, it is not surprising that brand loyalty comes in the form of retweets, shares on Facebook and likes on Instagram.

You can see where we are going with this right? We decided to analyze the Instagram accounts of 5 brands that had major ‘accidents’ and track the reaction of their followers. After all, effective branding and loyal followers should be able to withstand any mishaps, right?

After all, strong branding and loyal followers should be able to withstand any ‘PR disasters’ right?

1. Fyre Festival 

Let’s say you forked out $450-$12,000 on tickets to the Fyre Festival expecting to dance on the white-sand beaches in the Bahamas only to be stranded without any food, water with half-built tents and no one around to help. It is quite literally like Lost (minus the plane crash).

What we see:

  • 28th April: There is an 8.14% increase in the number of followers despite news that Fyre Festival was canceled
  • 1st May: Vanity Fair released the hilarious pitch deck for the festival.
  • 2nd May: It was said that the attorneys for the Frye Festival had begun sending out cease-and-desist letters to those who were blasting the festival on social media.

Why is there a 17.14% sharp increase in the number of followers again from the 3rd May to the 6th?

Are Millennials that forgiving?

2. Fox News 

Jessica Golloher, a former Fox News radio reporter filed a lawsuit alleging she experienced gender discrimination at the network. According to her, Fox’s human resources encouraged them to voice out any complaints, but when Golloher emailed one of the lawyers listed, she was informed her position was being cut due to financial reasons. Fox News said her claims are “without merit.”

What we see:

  • There is a steady 0.52% increase in the number of followers
  • 4th May news of Bias Lawsuit and Federal Inquiry into Fox News
  • 5th May again there is a sudden rise of followers

What can explain the 0.52% sharp rise in the number of followers again?

3. Wells Fargo

From 2011 to mid-2016 Wells Fargo’s employees created more than 1.5 million unauthorized deposit accounts and issued more than 500,000 unauthorized credit card applications. These accounts accounted for $2.6 million in fees for the bank.

What we see:

  • There is a 1.35% steady rise in followers
  • 2nd May: They city of Philadelphia voted to change handlers of its payroll account to Citizens Bank for the next fiscal year.
  • 2nd May: Talks begin over Senate Bill 33 which was introduced in the wake of the Wells Fargo sham account scandal.
  • Again, there is a sudden1.30% rise in followers but maybe this could be due to the actions Wells Fargo repair its image.

 Perhaps their followers believed the 165-year-old Bank deserve some forgiveness?

4. Volkswagen

The Volkswagen emissions scandal revolved around the intentional program that activated certain emission control only during laboratory emissions testing. 7 years and a whopping 11 million cars later, on 18th September 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) caught wind and issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act to Volkswagen.

What we see:

  • 3rd May: A sudden 9.84% drop in followers despite the announcement that Volkswagen resumed US diesel sales and that its profits jumped 40% due to cost-cutting measures.
  • 4th May: A gradual 4.32% increase in the number of followers only to slow down around 8th May

There are signs that the brand is making amends and is bouncing back yet there are some volatilities in the number of followers. Does that mean there is no concrete relationship between brand sentiment and number of followers?

Perhaps Millennials just didn’t like the new Golf?

5. Uber

On 28th April Uber unveiled new privacy settings which allowed its users to better control how the company collects information about them. Good, right? Again, on the 28th April Portland released their audit and it was announced that they have plans to subpoena Uber to turn over information on how they used Greyball to evade regulatory officials.

What we see:

  • 28th April: Uber announces their new privacy policies and there’s a 1.73% increase in followers
  • 28th April: News that city of Portland may subpoena Uber for details on Greyball program and there is a drop of 1.53% in followers
  • 30th April: steady 0.10% increase in followers again

Maybe conflicting news would cause this sudden fluctuation?


There we have it. 5 major brands and 5 major PR nightmares. While the resulting impact on the number of followers was generally consistent it is surprising how quickly these brands bounced right back up.

So back to the question. Are Millennials brand loyal or not? The answer most marketers might provide is yes, they are but only if a brand can achieve the following

  • Offer better service for a higher quality
  • Take a stand on issues that matter to their followers.
  • Achieve excellence in every channel

As tempting as that sounds, can you name a brand that has checked the 3 points to unlocking brand loyalty? There is a good chance you can’t because we are looking at an improbable scenario of a perfect brand. Every brand eventually slips up.

Based on the fluctuations we have observed above we would say that Millennials are not brand loyal. Most of these brands lost followers the moment bad news made the press. While they might have bounced right back up, the question remains:

  1. Why was there a sudden drop followed by a sudden rise in the number of followers?
  2. Does it mean Millennials have a fleeting attention span?
  3. Or does it suggest that Millennials are forgiving and these mishaps don’t cause permanent damage?

There is no concrete answer just yet. What it does highlight is the need for brands to better understand their consumers and followers. They need tangible metrics to better study and analyze the impacts on brand perception and loyalty.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of Millennial’s brand loyalty, I am sure you would agree that analytics provides the door to better understanding this elusive yet promising target market.


Written by Kenneth Edward

Hey, everyone! I am currently serving as an Account Coordinator at Octagon, the world's top agency for sports entertainment marketing and talent management. Besides dogs and fine teas, I love all things marketing. It is my belief that good marketing not only educates, it engages and transforms. Shoot me an email if you have any questions. Thx!

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