Why you should pay attention to "Centennials"

Move over, Millennials -- there are new kids in town

Step aside, Millennials ― you’re old news.  You’ve grown up and right out of the trendsetters demographic, and smart marketers need to get up to speed on what’s next.  While the new kid in town’s name is still being determined (contenders include: Centennials, iGen, Gen Z) the important thing is that they are here, they’ve got money, and you will want to be speaking to them in their language very soon. 

First, who are they? This new generation is made up of roughly 55 million kids and young adults ages 9-21, account for 17 percent of the U.S. population, and harness $44 billion in spending power. They were given phones and tablets to entertain themselves while their parents tried to have a quiet dinner at a restaurant and quickly gained more expertise than the owners of the technology.

Centennials are coming of age in an era when WiFi is speedy and always available, and they have less patience than older generations for technology and brand experiences that are not fast, responsive, and seamless. Centennials are digital natives, mobile first and often only, and are savvy in regards to protecting their privacy and their ‘brand’ online.

Centennials have grown up with the expectation that they can select content on demand with little (Hulu, YouTube) to no (Netflix) commercial interruption. Will this generation be lost to advertising just as they begin to crowd out Millennials in the Holy Grail marketing segment of 18-34-year-olds?

We don’t think so. The important thing to remember is that the interest in storytelling resonates across all ages. And the annoyance with irrelevant and bad advertising also cuts across demographics.  Since the advent of the VCR (something Centennials don’t even recognize) people have been using technology to help them skip or avoid ads and still get their content.

To engage people, no matter what generation they hail from, we need to bring them better marketing with better targeting—using platforms like addressable TV.  Marketers can use first-and third-party data to target specific households and serve ads only to those likely to find them relevant.

Content marketing is also a powerful way to connect your brand to stories the consumer is interested in. Create long-form storytelling relevant to a show’s content to be released across episodes and it can become entertainment itself, integrated into the viewing experience, appreciated and anticipated by all.

A second universal truth across ages is that if you have to sit through advertising, you want it to entertain you. Centennials list humor as the number one attribute they enjoy about advertising.  The key for marketers is to tailor the humor to the style of content being enjoyed, which is easier and more impactful than guessing what tweens find funny this week. 

Centennials are also keen to be introduced to new music and the explosive growth of music festivals among both Millennials and Centennials shows the power of shared life experiences sought by both ages.

That being said, Centennials are unique in a couple key ways.  Understanding these differences can provide specific opportunities for your brand to get noticed by this generation.


Brands who count on the indulgent, unconcerned with nutrition, 18-22 year old need a new game plan for this generation. Centennials have learned that healthy living (through the war on obesity, nutritious school lunches, and exercising) is the key to happiness. Almost 7 in 10 of those ages 18-20 are motivated to live a healthy lifestyle to feel better, be happier, and look better. As this generation grows into being the primary grocery shoppers, restaurant-selectors, and product purchasers for themselves, a brand’s ‘better for you’ cred will be vital to attracting them.


Centennials are used to understanding and embracing diversity in ways other generations do not. Nearly 25 percent of this population is Hispanic compared to 18 percent of the general population. They’re aware of a wide variety of family formations and lifestyles by seeing issues such as marriage equality, transgender rights, and disability awareness, make headlines and changes in society around them.

Whereas other generations may have “tolerated” differences, Centennials celebrate them and expect to see all representations of people in their entertainment and advertising. This is far beyond merely showing racial diversity in ads. Centennials expect brands to take a stand and be accountable for not only showing diversity in race, orientation, relationships, and abilities, but also creating customer experiences and brand communities that are truly welcoming to all.

As Millennials evolve into new life stages, brands can utilize the core commonalities with previous generations to provide opportunities for relevant marketing that will also speak to Centennials. However, you can definitely tap into the insights outlined here to speak directly to Centennials as they enter their prime purchasing years.

Bethany Ehlert Cooner has more than 17 years market research and advertising agency experience, covering a range of categories during that time. At Greenhouse Partners, Bethany collaborates on strategic work for BACARDI® Mixers, Himalaya and Mark Anthony Brands. 

Categories: Sales & Marketing, Web Exclusives