The image of the Millennial generation took a battering this week. All those socially responsible, civic minded, perennially optimistic young people fell to the earth with a thud.
A new study portrays this generation of 70 million as more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors. Electronic gadgets and social networking sites stoke their self-indulgent tendencies while misguided parents fuel their self-inflated sense of importance.
It’s not a pretty picture and it certainly runs counter to the collective generational image painted by Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of two seminal books, “Millennials Rising” and “Millennials Go to College.”
A team of five psychologists, led by San Diego State University’s Jean Twenge, looked at the responses of 16,475 college students who completed an evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006. They say it is the largest study of its type, and concluded that NPI scores have risen steadily since 1982 and that today’s test takers are the all-time narcissism champions.
Howe and Strauss may argue with suggestions by the researchers that Millennials are prone to unstable romantic relationships, infidelity, lack of emotional warmth, dishonesty, absence of empathy and other destructive behaviors. But they would probably agree that this next great generation loves the word “me.”
So whether you buy all the implications of the narcissism study or not, it’s a powerful reminder that college marketing needs to focus more than ever on answering that age-old consumer question, “What’s in it for me?”
Your website, publications, in-person events and other marketing efforts have to push the benefits of your institution. Millennials aren’t really interested in hearing that much about you; they want to know what you’re going to do for them.
Read more about our authors. Ray Ulmer, public relations director at TargetX, has been involved in higher education marketing for more than 25 years, including serving as executive director of communications at La Salle University and director of public relations at Drexel University. He has also worked in corporate marketing and advertising.