Do You Need to Attract Younger Crowds?

Marketing to Millennials and Centennials

Hi, it’s Twanna. I’m on deck for this week’s post. I got my first grey hair at 21. So, I’ve been (semi) rocking grey hair for decades. If you work in an industry where your audiences are likely to have even more grey hairs on their head than mine, you may need to diversify your audiences. And, yes, it goes both ways. At a later date, I’ll talk more about why organizations targeting young folks need to attract older audiences, too.

For some industries, getting beyond the archetypal “greying” audiences has been an age-old (pun completely intended!) challenge. According to The Broadway League, the average age of theatregoers during the 2017-18 season was over 40. For plays specifically, the average attendee age was over 50. That’s just Broadway. For local theatres, the resulting marketing challenges can be more difficult.

If your organization is like a theater — or actually is one! — one obstacle to teen and young adult engagement could simply be due to a lack of exposure. As artistic directors point out, for people to get down with you, they need to know who you are. For example, keeping with the theater example, it’s not unusual for theatre patrons to have “aged into” the art. (The Broadway League notes that most attendees had some exposure to plays and musicals as children.)

So how do you grab the attention of a younger crowd and expose them to your organization?

Consider the Mindset List. Originally geared toward college educators, the List aims to remind folks in academia who were using outdated cultural touchstones that lessons should be relatable to all students. (As one example, consider that students entering the Class of 2022 probably have no concept of a time when space exploration didn’t exist.) The Mindset List can be a useful tool for oriented yourself to the mindset of people who may be 5, 10 or even 50 years younger than you are.

Need more specific tips? Here’s how you can use the List when developing and marketing your stuff.

Incorporate digital.

According to the Mindset List, films have always been on the Internet and eBooks have always existed for the Class of 2022. Younger millennials and centennials have never known a world where media didn’t feature a digital component. So, how are you using digital? Do you use it in your marketing? Good that’s a start! Do you incorporate digital into every single aspect of your work?

Use social media.

In the 1970s, Pippin was the first Broadway musical to market itself with a TV commercial. The commercial helped make the new-at-the-time production go “viral” (you know, in a retro, ‘70s sort of way) and helped to bring audiences to the show. Make the most of your modern-day equivalent by putting a particularly gripping or funny clip of your work on Instagram, YouTube, or Twitter.

Think about the pop culture references.

The movie Less Than Zero is older than anyone under 30. College students may not have seen or know a period when Robert Downey, Jr. wasn’t sober (and a superstar). They may only recognize Big Brother as a TV show (and not as the center of a literary plot line), and the phrase “be kind, rewind” will elicit a bunch of blank faces. With this in mind, consider the cultural references in your work – do they refer to the present day in any way? Can they be updated in such a way so they do?

Find the hidden stories.

Whether you’re telling a story through a blog post, a tweet, or on stage, good storytelling has never gone out of style, and I hope it never fucking will. Go beyond giving a summary of the plot of a production – is there an interesting story to be told about the play’s creation? The writer? The original staging? Different actors who have played in the roles previously? Some folks may not initially respond to the plot line in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?… because they aren’t white, or a woman, or into theater, or whatever … but when you give a little information on the play’s original scandal-filled run, you might be surprised at who connects with this information. I know, I know!! I’m obsessed with theater. But you can usually find the deeper, hidden stories in anything you’re working with.

Include diverse generations in your work.

Representation matters. And this is as true for people of different ages and generations as it is for culture, race, and gender identity. It is not uncommon for arts organizations — and small businesses and nonprofits that services older audiences — to have a young supporters’ group. Okay, so, think about taking that one step further and ensuring that your workforce, programming, donors, and other aspects of your work include diverse generations as well.

The Broadway League reports an uptick in youth attendance over the last year – due in part to the staging of youth-centric musicals. Of course, not everyone has the resources provided to Broadway theatre producers! And, of course, not everyone works in theater … but the whole world is, indeed, a stage! By strategically using good storytelling, considering the interests and perspectives of younger audiences in your work, and using external assistance, your organization can successfully market itself to brand new audiences of all ages!