I am the dreaded Millennial. I’m narcissistic. I’m killing the diamond, real estate, and paper napkin industries — and Applebee’s. And I’m doing it all without leaving my living room couch. Companies and investors complain about me while advertising to me and trying and entice me into their stores. But what brands don’t seem to understand is that old advertising campaigns don’t work on millennials.

Millennials are all about identity. What we buy, wear, and do is all in the name of identity. And what is unique to us is that we have use technology to socialize identity like never before. Naturally, we shop at places whose products and style match what we seek, but more importantly we are responding to and rewarding brands who are listening to us and adapting to our exploratory nature. Instead of trying to sell us on a concept born in a high-rise Madison Avenue office, brands should listen, connect and adapt.

What I love most about my peers is that we seek communities that encourage identity based on self-confidence and individuality. And we have the insight and technical prowess to spot a fraud. We will open our hearts and wallets for brands that build real communities rather than unrealistic ad campaigns.

Aerie is an example of the sort of brand that wins over millennials. Its main competitor is Victoria’s Secret. You can see the radical difference between the companies just by visiting their websites. The home page of Victoria’s Secret features runway models in all their leggy, photoshopped glory. The pictures are all done in a studio, each one carefully crafted by a professional photographer. The models in the pictures are sultry and stare out at the shopper seeming to say, “You wish you could be this sexy.” This feeling echoes throughout the whole site. Just about every description of a collection or bra has some version of the word “sex” in it.

In sharp contrast, there’s Aerie. Despite also being a company that mostly sells underwear, Aerie’s landing page doesn’t show a single underwear-clad girl.The pictures look more like my friends’ Instagram posts: smiling and laughing girls, some a little goofy. In fact, the Instagram feed not only pictures Aerie models, but regular customers who submitted their own shots sporting Aerie products. Victoria’s Secret’s site also features an Instagram gallery, but it’s of their pouty-lipped angels with their glamorous friends in an fake environment. Aerie’s real life approach seems to be working.

How much a brand believes in what they sell is revealed in its product copy. It’s here that a brand’s commitment and soul is revealed, and it’s here that we millennials can spot a brand who either doesn’t care, is duping us, or is genuine but out of touch. It’s clear that Victoria’s Secret and Aerie are both committed to their beliefs. On the one hand you have  “Sexy Illusions” and on the other you have “Real Me.” Product descriptions for Victoria’s Secret continues with the mantra of illusions and unrealistic expectations:

“Feels like nothing. Does everything

Aerie uses language I might hear talking to my best friend after a rough breakup or tough day of school or something I’d simply say to myself standing in front of the bathroom mirror:

“Today and every day, let the REAL you shine.”

The difference between illusion and reality matters a great deal in my buying decisions. My friends and I believe that what we purchase can make a positive difference in the world. And while this optimistic belief may seem out of place when buying lingerie, it matters. We are surrounded by so much noise that we crave real community, real confidence and realistic expectations. Brands like Aerie are succeeding because they promote achievable self-acceptance. Brands like Victoria’s Secret’s arelosing millennials because they sell unrealistic identities.  And because we are more connected, we are more aware of hypocrisy, and we research and analyze everything based on our core values. So yes, buying lingerie that supports women’s empowerment does matter.   

The net of it is that we are paying more attention and we have access to more information. Identity no longer represents a single thing such as a haircut, a bikini, or a single band. It’s political and it’s complex. We don’t all agree, and we are not all the same. And that’s how we like it. It’s not going to be easy for brands, but in the long run millennials will help drive the world away from unrealistic perfectionism and closer to self acceptance and self love.


Lauren Robinson