OMG: Want to Reach Millennials? You Have to, Like, Speak Their Language

A recently released study conducted with a panel of 100 millennials by MTV advises that if marketers take the time to understand the everyday language of their target audience, they can speak to them more effectively.

Fluency in the particular language cues of the current generation, the study says, could serve as a valuable tool for marketers to package relatable messages to a millennial audience in their ad campaigns.

The study also says marketers should draw on what millennial lingo reveals about them, namely:

  1. The desire to be seen as smart and funny; and appreciation for clever and quick wit
  2. Originality and authenticity
  3. A heightened sense of drama about their own lives
  4. Optimism over rebellion

The MTV study -- titled "What Millennials Are Just Sayin'" -- adds that throughout the 2000s, millennials have ushered in their own vernacular reflective of digital culture and gaming influences. In it, MTV takes a look at the everyday jargon of 18-24 year-olds.

Here are the findings.

Pop culture, movies and television have always had a profound impact on youth slang. Millennial slang draws on all these, plus a rapidly evolving digital landscape and a slew of other sources that include:

  • Gaming: Millennials view life as a multi-player game, and have found ways to integrate "gamer speak" into everyday life. Examples include: epic, win, fail.
  • Texting: "Text-speak" is used nearly as much offline as it is on digital platforms, giving millennials a way to codify their lingo and turn it into a secret language for those in-the-know. Examples include: smh, tfm.
  • Smart & Funny Icons: Millennials' desire to be seen as smart and funny in social media like "Twit-wit" star Mindy Kaling has spawned a whole set of lingo and symbols that help make Facebook posts or Tweets just a hint more clever. Examples include: just sayin', really, smh, #.
  • Tabloid Culture and Reality TV: Reality culture offers a heightened sense of drama, making millennials think of their own lives in a more dramatic sense. Examples include: fml, drama, epic.
  • Social Networking: The limitless ability to post feedback on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking tools has spurred new ways to like or dislike what others post. Examples include: lmao,
    hahahaha.

In the digital space, millennials use abbreviations liberally. Song lyrics also play a role in how millennials express themselves online.

  • Abbreviations: Millennials often abbreviate words and sayings as an added layer to fuel the wit in what they are saying, using shorthand such as lol, omg, fml, ttyl, wtf, smh.
  • Lyric-speak: In the same way that abbreviating phrases is cool and witty, song lyrics can catch on and play the same role of self-expression, adding an extra layer of in-the-know wit. Examples include: u fancy huh, hey yo, crunk, going hard, swag, deuces.
  • Authenticity: One word that stands out is "legit," meaning credible and not fake. This go-to word reflects just how much this generation values authenticity.

The words "awesome," "love" and "cool" seem timeless among young people and continue to be go-to favorites. But millennials have also come up with some synonyms for "cool," taking it to another level.

  • Hyper-speak: Given how much content millennials are exposed to, in order for something to stand out, it has to be disruptive and different. This is evident in what they say their favorite words are.

  • Things aren't just cool, they are "awesome," "amazing," "fantastic," "epic" and "crazy."
  • Happy-speak: As a whole, millennials are
    generally thought of as a positive and optimistic generation, especially compared to the rebellious spirit associated with Gen-Xers in their youth.
  • This optimism is reflected in their language: "wonderful,""smile," "happy," "beautiful" and "special" top their list of favorite words.

 Analyzing millennial slang reveals their desire to be seen as "smart and funny," the theme of reinvention tension, and their tendency toward drama.

  • Smart + Funny is the new rock ‘n' roll: Being "smart" is social currency with millennials, and social media is the place to display clever wit as well as hint at intellectual superiority. Humor is fast paced, un-PC, reference-laden, mashed-up, Facebook-able and disposable.

  • [Epic] fail: originally a gamer term, now mainstreamed to mean a failure so pathetic that it's funny.
  • Really?:subtle way to demonstrate smarts by knocking down what is unintelligent or obvious
  • Just sayin': way to show you disagree or disapprove, but with a hint of humor.
  • Frenemy: friend + enemy


Gaga-ism: The quest to be interesting, original and self-reinventing is amplified by an unlimited digital landscape for content discovery and Facebook material.

  • Random:
    quirky and disconnected; what no one else has imagined, i.e. a YouTube video of Abe Lincoln and Chuck Norris rapping together
  • Generic: way too obvious to be interesting, like a Chinese symbol tattoo
  • Cheesy: obvious,
    lacking in nuance or layers
  • Typical: doesn't spark the interest of clever people; often used as a smug remark
    after the fact (i.e. "that's so typical")

The Me Show: While teens have always been known for overdramatic tendencies, reality TV, mega-budget films like Avatar and epic games like Halo 3 heighten Millennials' sense of drama. Many believe their drama-filled lives are reality TV-worthy, or at the very least, Facebook worthy.

  • Drama: someone who unnecessarily overreacts ("she's too much drama") or a way to brag about
    your exciting life
  • Ridiculous: a person or situation that is crazy, unbelievable or out-of-control
  • Fml: my life is so full of drama, I need to emphatically ensure that everyone is aware