The millennial generation is now the largest in the US.

Despite what some media sources might say, they are amongst the most discerning, socially conscious spenders in the country.

College shoppers are now demanding more from their brands; they want to buy from companies that are working to help the environment and improve the world. So it should come as no surprise that this empowered purchasing group are willing to pay more for a product that is both sustainable and ethically manufactured.

Born between 1980 and the early 2000s, these young people grew up through a time of political polarization, global conflict and environmental warnings; this demographic group are now starting to establish themselves financially and are looking for brands that appeal to their highly ethical values.

The incumbent Baby Boomers are reaching the end of their lives and it’s estimated that trillions of dollars will be transferred down to their millennial children during the next decade. Although some of these numbers have no doubt been exaggerated, it’s worth appreciating that they will soon be amongst the biggest spenders in the US.

Older generations might be easy to dismiss millennials as narcissistic, selfish individuals; but these young consumers are motivated by more than just the amount of engagement that they receive on their social feeds. Data collected from various surveys reveal this generation to be a group of socially conscious individuals, who have more than just quality and price point in mind when they make a purchase.

The current generation of students are driven by wellness. Their need to live well accounts for their disparaging view of smokers, as well as their proactive approach to exercise and healthy eating. This obsession with well-being extends to their progressive views on mental health, equal opportunities as well as the environmental impact that they have on the planet.

Credit: Pixabay

Millennials are not as brand loyal as their Baby Boomer predecessors. They are the first generation of digital natives, they’re resistant to traditional forms of advertising and know when they’re being pandered to. This makes them a particularly difficult demographic to market to, however you can appeal to these smart consumers by adopting the tenets that they hold high: transparency, sustainable products and ethical business practices.

The past decade has seen the rise of a number of ethically focused companies who have all made a concerted effort to communicate their well-meaning efforts to a millennial market that are keen for their purchases to make a difference.

Purveyors of ‘fresh handmade cosmetics’ Lush have remained current by pushing innovation with both their products and delivery methods. Their line of vegetarian products, as well as their innovative approach to sustainable packaging makes for shareable stories that have given their business an ethical identity, making them undeniably popular with the millennial market.

Bigger brands such as Nike have a tougher task on their hands: convincing millennials of their commitment to affecting change on the world. Constantly being in the spotlight has forced them to rethink how they source their materials in a bid to make their products more attractive to the millennial market; hiring strong female role models as ambassadors with a real purpose has gone a long way in doing that.

Credit: Richard Skins/Lush

Then there are brands like TOMS: a for-profit company that has built itself around a central philanthropic purpose. TOMS made waves nearly a decade ago by promising that for every pair of shoes they sold they would donate a pair to a child without any. Eschewing traditional marketing techniques, they were able to gain favor for their brand through a mixture of celebrity endorsements, social media advertising and campus-based marketing.

The company reached out to colleges and empowered students to form their own ‘Campus Clubs’. These are essentially traditional activist societies formed with the purpose of raising awareness for TOMS’ cause. In return for their campaigning efforts these students receive valuable leadership skills and a letter of recommendation form the company.

TOMS’ success is no doubt thanks to their continued presence on campuses around the country. Our network of student brand ambassadors performs much the same role.

Whether it’s through strategic dorm room distribution or experiential events like our ESSENCE College Tour, which took a hair-styling experience around the country to empower African-American college students to lead successful and healthy lives – our student-led marketing activities are designed to generate the kind of buzz and positivity that college going millennials relate to.

Give us a call on (212) 386-7617 or send us an email to to see how we could help you reach this valuable demographic.

Bryan Carbone has over 20 years experience in college media, advertising and Out-of-Home media. Having established one of the country’s most innovative college marketing agencies in the U.S., working with more than 4,000 universities, Bryan has developed college targeted campaigns for Fortune 500 companies such as Clinique, P&G, Bare Minerals, Luxottica, as well as The USMC and Peace Corps and many more.