Zakary Tormala is a marketing professor at Stanford. He teaches courses on attitudes, persuasion and consumer behavior. He is particularly interested in the power of potential.
According to his research, people value potential more than achievement. This creates a phenomenon in which what a person might do is of higher value than what another person has actually done.
We see this all the time. From the rookie point guard who is recruited straight out of high school with a multi-year, multimillion dollar NBA contract, to the junior senator from Illinois with zero administrative experience who is elected President of the United States. (No hate mail please. I voted for him too.)
Even with the inherent risks that go along with betting on the come, potential is still more powerful than achievement. Professor Tormala proposes that the uncertainty is precisely what makes potential so attractive. People with potential are interesting and exciting! Who cares if they actually haven’t done anything yet?
This got me thinking about millennials.
These days you can’t swing a dead blogger without hitting an expert who’s extolling the virtues of millennials. (Please don’t make me list them.) The general consensus is millennials are going to fix everything.
Of course they are. Just as soon as they get a job and move out of mom’s basement.
Until then, let’s separate potential from achievement.
Someday millenials will outnumber us. Today people 50+ outnumber 18-32 year olds by 32 million.
Someday millennials might outspend us. Today boomers spend $2.9 trillion a year—this represents nearly half of all consumer spending.
Someday millennials might be financially secure. Today we control about 75% of the wealth in the U.S.
Someday millennials might own their own homes. Today home ownership among adults younger than 35 is the lowest in recorded history.
Someday millennials might buy cars. Today 63% of all new cars in the U.S. are purchased by people over 50.
Someday millennials might pay their own way. Today more than half of U.S. parents are providing financial support to their adult children.
Someday advertisers will wake up and realize that by blindly pandering to the potential of the 18-34 demographic, they’re ignoring and insulting the people who actually buy their products and grow their businesses.
Yeah. And someday monkeys might fly out of my butt.