Millennial Marketing: The Vulgarity Gap

Nothing dates a Boomer so fast as to wince at expletives and vulgar humor. Yet a quick look at Adult Swim, Family Guy, and CollegeHumor.com quickly show that Millennials are perfectly comfortable with language and humor that makes my generation blush. Vulgarity is no doubt part of the attraction.

I recently began following an interesting young woman on Twitter. She thanked me for the follow, but sent me several @ replies trying to warn me off.

@carol_phillips i’m not so sure you’re going 2 like my tweets. they r pretty raw. :) u seem like u tweeting 4 professional reasons.

@carol_phillips no offense, but most ppl of ur generation usually don’t like hearing raw thoughts/emotions/language.

@carol_phillips if u click on my id & look @ past tweets, u will get an idea of why i issued the warning. :)

She’s right of course, generally people my age don’t like to hear rough uncensored thoughts.

Which brings me to, My New Haircut. The success of this non-professionally shot YouTube video further illustrates the generational divide. Twenty-two million views puts My New Haircut among the all time YouTube greats. Rated “Really Fuckin’ Funny”, it has spawned numerous spoofs and a top spot on College Humor. While not in the same league as Evolution of Dance (116MM views), or Laughing Baby (79MM views), it does rank up there with Miss Teen South Carolina 2007‘s 43 minutes of fame (34 million views). (Note: For those who are interested, ReadWriteTalk does a good job of explaining the complexity of ranking YouTube videos as many of the top ones are professionally produced).

For those of you over 30, here is some background. MyNewHaircut is a video filmed by Brett Tietjen and his friend Mike Allen in New Jersey. Tietjen has a master’s degree in film production from New York Institute of Technology and his own production company called L2X Productions. Both Tietjen and Allen star in the video, which features a well-known stereotype in Long Island bars, the ‘guido’, a tanned, buff, spiked hair guy with more bravado than brains who is singlemindedly focused on going to techno bars and ‘winning with the ladies’ (Hint: not the way he describes it in the film).

The film, reportedly shot, edited and aired all in one day, has spawned many spoofs ranging from an Asian version (Rated “Reary Reary Funny”) to a senior citizen version to a Jewish version (Rated “Kosher”) by University senior, Eric Niederman.

Needless to say, the film’s popularity has launched Tietjen’s career. Jagermeister sponsored a tour called, “The Skanks and Broskis Tour,” which has gone all over the country appearing at local bars and clubs. There is a script for a movie version and a reality TV show, all of which will no doubt be wildly successful for the young film-makers, their production partners and brand sponsors.

Which brings me back to my original observation: what Gen Y finds “Really Fuckin’ Funny”, other generations generally do not. Even Niederman, the marketing major who created Jewish spoof, says, “My family doesn’t like my comedy, but thought the video was hilarious. They showed it to my grandparents which was awkward because I cursed a lot in it.”

Given the vulgarity divide, I think it’s fair to say that My New Haircut and other properties like it, is unlikely to cross over to an older audience. For over 30 Millennial marketers, that means we need to put our own sensibilities aside.

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  • Dr Andre Phufufnik

    I am 52 and I hate the crude language. My younger son, 20 year old, uses ‘fuck’ all the time. It makes me cringe when he does, and he sees that — when he pays attention.

    It’s really weak to use powerful words all the time. And it makes me wonder if younger people have a limited vocabulary.

    As for ‘Family Guy’ it is one of the most odious shows I have ever seen. But four-letter words are just one of many things wrong with it.

  • Dr Andre Phufufnik

    I am 52 and I hate the crude language. My younger son, 20 year old, uses ‘fuck’ all the time. It makes me cringe when he does, and he sees that — when he pays attention.It’s really weak to use powerful words all the time. And it makes me wonder if younger people have a limited vocabulary.As for ‘Family Guy’ it is one of the most odious shows I have ever seen. But four-letter words are just one of many things wrong with it.

  • Matt

    There’s no doubt that off-color humor is hugely popular among Millennials, but it’s important to realize that the use ‘casual vulgarity’ doesn’t automatically exclude the existence of wit and purpose, as the post seems to imply. Sarcasm, satire, and irony are some of the highest forms of humor (just ask Wilde et al); the vulgar delivery of these devices shouldn’t cause an entire generation to dismiss Millennial tastes. George Carlin should have taught you better than that.
    For instance, South Park is a perfect example of smart, well-written comedy hidden just beneath a surface of childish dialogue. If you haven’t seen many episodes, I could recommend a few that would undoubtedly change your POV.

    Thanks for listening,

    Matt Bradley
    @mjbradley85

  • Matt

    There’s no doubt that off-color humor is hugely popular among Millennials, but it’s important to realize that the use ‘casual vulgarity’ doesn’t automatically exclude the existence of wit and purpose, as the post seems to imply. Sarcasm, satire, and irony are some of the highest forms of humor (just ask Wilde et al); the vulgar delivery of these devices shouldn’t cause an entire generation to dismiss Millennial tastes. George Carlin should have taught you better than that.For instance, South Park is a perfect example of smart, well-written comedy hidden just beneath a surface of childish dialogue. If you haven’t seen many episodes, I could recommend a few that would undoubtedly change your POV. Thanks for listening,Matt Bradley@mjbradley85

  • Gerard Babitts

    Good stuff.

    Having spent time working in the online video comedy category targeted to Millennials, I absolutely agree with your take on this divide. The blue-language, off-color, and button-pushing comedy that many Millennials love scares the hell out of older folk (especially Boomers) who I believe are either too old to remember their younger, carefree years or are bothered by not being on the cutting-edge of humor anymore. Having been on the cusp of emerging popular culture for many years as Boomers and Gen Xers, many are angry about being there anymore.

    Substitute “music” for “comedy” and you often get the same reaction.

  • Gerard Babitts

    Good stuff.Having spent time working in the online video comedy category targeted to Millennials, I absolutely agree with your take on this divide. The blue-language, off-color, and button-pushing comedy that many Millennials love scares the hell out of older folk (especially Boomers) who I believe are either too old to remember their younger, carefree years or are bothered by not being on the cutting-edge of humor anymore. Having been on the cusp of emerging popular culture for many years as Boomers and Gen Xers, many are angry about being there anymore.Substitute “music” for “comedy” and you often get the same reaction.

  • Dr Andre Phufufnik

    I can assure you most Boomers rarely used vulgar or pornographic langauge around older people when they were millennial age. Among themselves, sure. But what’s different is the infusion of it in popular culture now and its absence then.

    And to stray onto the ‘Family Guy’ topic. It’s no ‘Southpark’ which under the covers has a sweet note to it. As we know, there’s always a positive message. But there’s precious little of that in FG. FG lacks the higher aspects of the human spirit.

  • Dr Andre Phufufnik

    I can assure you most Boomers rarely used vulgar or pornographic langauge around older people when they were millennial age. Among themselves, sure. But what’s different is the infusion of it in popular culture now and its absence then. And to stray onto the ‘Family Guy’ topic. It’s no ‘Southpark’ which under the covers has a sweet note to it. As we know, there’s always a positive message. But there’s precious little of that in FG. FG lacks the higher aspects of the human spirit.

  • Anonymous

    Very much agree with what Matt wrote. One can be witty, with or without vulgarity. Vulgarity is actual a non-issue for the majority of Gen X & Gen Y-ers. It's not really so much about the vulgarity itself but rather the fact that vulgarity no longer has any shock value & has lost its meaning to the latter generations. We also use this language precisely because we full well know that it will alienate the older audiences. We are having a dialogue unto ourselves & do not need the approval of the older generations in order to conduct it. :)

    There's a certain freedom in being able to say things "no holds barred," whether with vulgarity or not. It has been the domain of the artist, the musician, the activist, & the comic to continually push these boundaries.

  • Leah Hennessy

    I can't even begin to tell you how valuable this post and insight is.

    As a millennial, though, I do feel like I should make a distinction in the video chosen. "New Haircut" is definitely shocking for language and content, but generally rides a sophomoric sense of humor. Now, there are PLENTY of us out there that enjoy that – many of us are actually in high school.

    To get a better idea of the vulgarity gap mentioned in the post, I would point to Andy Samberg's "I'm On A Boat! – Dirty Version." This is a more "mainstream" use of the vulgarity gap using some very high- and low-brow humor. I have not met anyone around my age that does not enjoy this. link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7yfISlGLNU&feature=player_embedded

    I myself tend to swear like a sailor on my own time – but not in negative context. It's similar to typing something in bold or italics.

    If big corporations want to overcome our negative views of them, they would be wise to find a way to skirt the edge of this gap.

    Thanks for the excellent post.

  • Leah Hennessy

    I can't even begin to tell you how valuable this post and insight is.As a millennial, though, I do feel like I should make a distinction in the video chosen. "New Haircut" is definitely shocking for language and content, but generally rides a sophomoric sense of humor. Now, there are PLENTY of us out there that enjoy that – many of us are actually in high school.To get a better idea of the vulgarity gap mentioned in the post, I would point to Andy Samberg's "I'm On A Boat! – Dirty Version." This is a more "mainstream" use of the vulgarity gap using some very high- and low-brow humor. I have not met anyone around my age that does not enjoy this. link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7yfISlGLNU&feature=player_embeddedI myself tend to swear like a sailor on my own time – but not in negative context. It's similar to typing something in bold or italics. If big corporations want to overcome our negative views of them, they would be wise to find a way to skirt the edge of this gap.Thanks for the excellent post.

  • Pinot Peter

    I am a 23 year old college student that for someone reason doesn’t use vulgarity. Yes you do make a point that millennial generation uses vulgarity but not all. I guess that I am not your typical 23, i focus energy on things like school and recently the hype which is social media.

    I couldn’t help to read another comment and reply. I think that some instances when younger people have limited vocabulary, but not all the time. Certainly the problem that i see among college students is how they get there.

    Students who put themselves through school are that exception, smarter, better vocabulary and the future of America. The students that go far away on their parents dime are the kind of people you are talking about, party going kids that think C’s get degrees. Kind of like my sister. I could go off on the vast majority of college athletes that get 2.0 GPA and get into Duke for Basketball, or USC or a premier college, but not right now.

    Great article and I look forward to more, thanks.

  • Pinot Peter

    I am a 23 year old college student that for someone reason doesn’t use vulgarity. Yes you do make a point that millennial generation uses vulgarity but not all. I guess that I am not your typical 23, i focus energy on things like school and recently the hype which is social media. I couldn’t help to read another comment and reply. I think that some instances when younger people have limited vocabulary, but not all the time. Certainly the problem that i see among college students is how they get there.Students who put themselves through school are that exception, smarter, better vocabulary and the future of America. The students that go far away on their parents dime are the kind of people you are talking about, party going kids that think C’s get degrees. Kind of like my sister. I could go off on the vast majority of college athletes that get 2.0 GPA and get into Duke for Basketball, or USC or a premier college, but not right now. Great article and I look forward to more, thanks.

  • Keesler Welch

    For anyone who wants to catch up on the ‘top Millennial websites/videos’, here is a link to a website entitled “99 Things You Should Have Already Experienced On The Internet Unless You’re a Loser or Old or Something” : http://youshouldhaveseenthis.com/ which also lists the Evolution of Dance and Ms. South Carolina clips.

  • Keesler Welch

    For anyone who wants to catch up on the ‘top Millennial websites/videos’, here is a link to a website entitled “99 Things You Should Have Already Experienced On The Internet Unless You’re a Loser or Old or Something” : http://youshouldhaveseenthis.com/ which also lists the Evolution of Dance and Ms. South Carolina clips.

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  • Anonymous

    Very much agree with what Matt wrote. One can be witty, with or without vulgarity. Vulgarity is actual a non-issue for the majority of Gen X & Gen Y-ers. It's not really so much about the vulgarity itself but rather the fact that vulgarity no longer has any shock value & has lost its meaning to the latter generations. We also use this language precisely because we full well know that it will alienate the older audiences. We are having a dialogue unto ourselves & do not need the approval of the older generations in order to conduct it. :)

    There's a certain freedom in being able to say things "no holds barred," whether with vulgarity or not. It has been the domain of the artist, the musician, the activist, & the comic to continually push these boundaries.

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  • http://www.evolveyourweddingbusiness.com/ Heidi Thompson

    I swear a lot and I think it’s an important part of language but the interesting thing is that I get it from my mom, and she gets if from my grandpa so it’s hard to generalize generations like that. In fact when I worked at a bar in college I knew a lot of older men who swore like sailors.

  • Greg Ouellette

    its not really hard to generalize about that generation. for the most part they do not use profanity like water. you are filtering society greatly simply by including your own family and older men who frequent bars. they are also not representative of the majority of society. you cannot effectively and fairly excuse valid stats. sorry.