The Slashie Phenomenon and the Pitfalls of Using Stereotypes to Market to Millennials

The Slashie Phenomenon and the Pitfalls of Using Stereotypes to Market to Millennials
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By Anna Ondaatje, Strategist, Giant Spoon

Perhaps you have noticed a recent proliferation of slash usage among young professionals describing what they “do.” In response to this phenomenon, the term “slashies” has arisen in the marketing zeitgeist to represent these individuals who choose not to title themselves by their day jobs alone. Slashies, who are generally members of the millennial demographic, choose to include various ‘side hustles’ in their professional titles—independent projects and loftier but perhaps less lucrative pursuits to which they devote their time—in addition to their nine-to-five.

Granted, including a “slash” in one’s job title is not a new occurrence. Los Angeles, for one, has been teeming with slash-users for at least the last half-century: the writer/director, the actor/waitress, the producer/comedian, etc. But where the use of the slash in these Hollywood titles is for descriptive purposes, a slashie employs it slightly differently. The additional qualifiers in slashies’ titles allow them to define themselves as much by passions, ambitions, or pastimes as by the way they are making ends meet. Slashies add qualifiers out of a desire to be defined by what activities they think make them seem more interesting than their day jobs alone do.

So when asked at a party, “What do you do?” the slashie answers, “I’m an advertising strategist/guitarist/startup co-founder,” rather than what she perceives as the less intriguing but more straightforward, “I work in advertising.” She’s also giving the questioner additional conversational leads to latch onto, in a hope that she’ll be able to talk about something other than what she does for work—and thus, shortcutting her way to being perceived as a more interesting, multifaceted individual.

Millennials, as we have seen, want to define their own identities: to select and control how they are perceived. As this generation has matured and begun careers, they have applied to their professional descriptions the same meticulous self-curation they perfected on their Instagram accounts—carefully crafting a more idealized, outward-facing identity in an attempt to appear cooler, more fun, more creatively-driven.

But on a more macro level, this behavior is just as indicative of millennials’ life stage as it is of their generational values. As they leave college and move through their twenties, young people today enter into an uncertain job market, where they encounter seemingly insurmountable roadblocks that challenge their aspirations. They discover quickly upon beginning their professional lives that many entry-level jobs—particularly those in creative fields—are harder to come by than they were led to believe they would be. Many are reluctant to define themselves by the job for which they’ve had to settle—often their second, third, or fifteenth choice. The dream job has increasingly become just that for many young professionals: a dream.

Even for the millennials who do love their jobs, as many do, their generational values of individuality, innovation, and risk-taking can often be at odds with their steady, safe nine-to-fives. Their parents’ and grandparents’ values of reliability and loyalty bred a culture of lifelong careers at a single company where one gradually worked one’s way up the corporate ladder. This approach is no longer as appealing to the younger generation. Millennials are inclined instead to hop around, both to fast track their ascent and to taste-test different companies and roles in search of the perfect one, whether it exists or not.

In marketing to this millennial demographic, it is important to recognize why the slashie trend has arisen and what it means for brand communications:

1. Millennials (to generalize, admittedly) do not want to be spoken to as one-dimensional archetypes of specific jobs or familial roles. Stereotypes, particularly, are an immediate bête noire: the overused trope of the eager house mom and the tired working father ring false and feel outdated at best and at worst are offensive to a generation of ambitious, working women and fathers willingly assuming domestic roles.

2. When targeting professionals within the millennial age range, think of them as more than just the positions they hold. That means, consider what their behaviors and concerns are out of habitat (non-work) as much as you do their behaviors and concerns in-habitat (at work). Keep in mind that work is not necessarily their only, if even their primary, interest.

3. Empower them. Celebrate them for their side gigs, elevate their hobbies, and arm them with the tools to make their aspirations a reality. Slashies are choosing to use their free time to invent, to create, and to learn—and that deserves recognition.

Understanding the way millennials view themselves, and in turn, speaking to them as complex adults with an array of interests and aspirations will allow for the building of more meaningful connections and deeper brand affinity.

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