Is Pop Culture Shifting Millennial's Attitudes on Materialism?

You’ve heard it all before, Millennials are optimistic and idealistic about their future, but due to a lagging economy and high student debt rates they are choosing less-expensive schools, aren’t buying cars and are tightening their belts overall. In fact, BuzzBack’s recent Student Debt survey found that males and females prioritize spending differently.

“When presented with a list of behaviors that may be impacted as a result of their debt, more females point to cutbacks on daily spending (e.g., eating out less often, spending less on clothing, spending less on groceries) while more males select larger, lifestyle changes (e.g., living with roommates, taking public transportation, and even putting off getting married). Nearly half of both males and females agree that trips/vacations have been put on the back burner.”

However, I've been noticing a trend in pop culture lately that has me wondering if this conservative spending will be embedded so deeply that it will carry on into their lives for a long time to come. It’s no secret that music has long influenced generations. And now thanks to the internet and wearable technologies we are able to play music whenever we want. Most recently there have been a few popular songs that have resonated so much with consumers that the songs themselves seem to have catapulted the musicians to celebrity status. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' huge hit, Thrift Shop rose to the top of the charts and boasted about rummaging through consignment store discounted wear.

Being sure to practice what he preaches, Macklemore instructed fans to pirate his album and to purchase T-shirts online or visit Seattle thrift shops if they couldn't afford them due to venues jacking merchandise prices.

Lorde is a 17 year old, New Zealand-born singer/songwriter who released her first album for free on SoundCloud. Her hit song, Royals, poo-poos those obsessed with extravagant items most people only dream about while also shining a light onto other artists for not speaking accurately to a generation with little to no money.

Both songs have reached #1 on the Billboard charts and both songs were written by Millennials. More specifically, Thrift Shop is only the second song in history to ever reach the number 1 spot on the Hot 100 without the support of a major record label. Royals  is currently in the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for it's 8th week.

Could a shift in attitudes away from materialism be on the horizon? Should marketers be concerned with the idea that even if/when the Millennials have excess money that they might not want to spend it on the majority of brands currently in market? There is data out there to support this post Great Recession philosophy. Are people bucking against materialism and the usual need to keep up with the Joneses/Kardashians? If so, how will brands need to position their products differently especially for this already skeptical consumer group? Will the Millennials change the market landscape for good? We’ve already seen an upsurge in sustainability initiatives by brands. If Millennials truly care about buying less and caring for their community more, will this be the key to securing this target demographic?

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