13 Mar Why Millennial-focused brands should resurrect a cancelled HBO show
Despite popular media consistently reporting otherwise, the Millennial generation doesn’t consider itself entitled, lazy or owed anything. Bar a few notable exceptions – like the former Yelp employee who ripped the founder online and then got shredded herself – this is a generation of entrepreneurs, hustlers, creators and makers.
Indeed, our research at Brainsights has consistently found the same. Over the past two years, we’ve scanned the brains of several thousand Millennials as they watch and consume hours and hours of content.
Themes that consistently resonate are those of empowerment, of achieving against the odds, of hacking the system to gain an edge, of hustling and sweating and working hard towards goals, making your mark in your own corner of the world, and helping others to make theirs.
This generation has been left a legacy system that created enormous wealth, but at the expense of the environment and unequal distribution of that wealth. It’s a generation that needs to navigate this challenging system, learn it, and hack it to get ahead.
As brand conscious and digitally savvy, Millennials recognize and commit time to brands and content they love, and work to avoid those they do not. This makes brand integration particularly valuable for this segment – meaningfully weaving brands into the stories sought out and consumed by Millennials. The types of stories that reflect the lives they lead and want to lead.
Which brings me to the cancelled HBO show, How to Make it in America. The show was first brought to my attention by a mate of mine, Big John, while we worked together at an agency in London. His pitch to me to watch it: “it’s like what Entourage wished it was”.
Big John is a consummate hustler. When we were at Havas together, he ran a blog on the side called Officially Urban, covering urban fashion, music and culture. We regularly swapped ideas and dreams and pushed each other. He said I reminded him of Cam Calderon from How to Make it in America: energetic, endlessly optimistic, and always convincing the rest of the world that what he had going on was big, with a kind of Brooklyn/Lower East Side hustler charm. I took it as a huge compliment.
I enjoyed the show. And not just because I agreed with Big John and saw bits of myself in the character of Cam.
I enjoyed it because in the show I saw a lot of the world I was living as an entrepreneur – the setbacks, struggles and successes of entrepreneurship, the challenges of finding the right partners, of reconciling dreams and realities, of needing to balance and manage short term pressures and long term objectives. I loved the moments of vulnerability between friends, the “how are we going to make it?” that every entrepreneur and artist and creator asks in dark moments and answers when they’re reminded of the scrappiness that got them there and the self-belief each knows they have inside.
Whether makers, entrepreneurs, creators or hustlers, today’s gig economy means there’s a growing market interested in this type of content. Platforms like AirBnB, Uber, Etsy, Shopify, YouTube, and even earlier pioneers like eBay and Amazon provide the tools required to start businesses and power hustle. And countless blogs cover the subject of startups, maker culture and their derivatives.
Brands looking to tap into this spirit should consider reviving How to Make it in America. For three reasons:
First, there’s brand/property alignment. Brands with messaging or positioning that conveys core entrepreneurial, self-made, hustler characteristics – whether grit, ingenuity or ‘carving out one’s place’ – align well with the storylines advanced by Cam Calderon and his crew.
Secondly, these brands must find new ways to connect with this millennial/entrepreneurial audience. This audience doesn’t really have time or bandwidth for ads (hence their ad blocking tendencies). As such, brands must integrate with inspiring content instead of simply advertising around it – or risk being shut out. And this type of content also lives on. The move to digital libraries of content means these shows are always accessible – meaning the brands within them gain continuous exposure and association.
Finally, the characters and storylines are there – this isn’t a start-from-scratch job. Sure, it would benefit from a multi-platform approach (instead of simply a standard TV series) and perhaps from an expansion of the geographic scope (with entrepreneurship a global phenomena not confined to the US), but the show’s fundamental premise is strong, and there’s equity there. In my humble opinion, it was just ahead of its time.
If you’re a brand seeking to connect with the Millennial entrepreneurial spirit, you need to be thinking big like your target. Investing in the revival of a full length TV series would be a good start.
I would tune in.