Agencies are becoming social media savvy

Ad agencies find millennials tricky to target
Agencies are becoming social media savvy

Passengers on the famed Brown Line which runs through Chicago’s downtown Loop and upscale North Side are getting a big dose of Wisconsin. Ads touting shorter commute times, a lower cost of living and outdoor recreation in Wisconsin began running on CTA trains in January and will continue into the summer. Posters are up in downtown Chicago health clubs, while printed drink coasters in trendy bars and restaurants deliver the pitch: “Wisconsin: It’s More You.”

The $1 million marketing campaign launched earlier this year by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., or WEDC, to lure millennials from Chicagoland to the Badger State is also going heavy on social media.

This spring, the Legislature approved spending another $6.8 million to expand the marketing campaign to Minneapolis, Detroit and other cities, along with a separate effort to recruit veterans transitioning into civilian work.

One messaging effort aimed largely at the 21 to 35 demographic is appearing on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. WEDC is spending $233,000 for targeted ads on these three social networks alone.

It’s a no-brainer, considering millennials in 2017 spent an average of three hours and 43 minutes a day on their mobile devices — 35 minutes more per day than in 2016, according to

Milwaukee-based Nelson Schmidt landed the WEDC contract and has produced the content for both print and digital.

Madison ad agencies are watching Wisconsin’s marketing effort in Chicago for indications of its success. Ben Hirby, digital creative director at Planet Propaganda, says combining both traditional and digital channels to target an audience as specific as millennials in Chicago is the right approach.

“You can deliver a commute-time message to exactly the audience you want, exactly when you want: while they’re enduring a longer commute,” says Hirby, whose firm’s clients include Duluth Trading Co., Jersey Mike’s Subs and Madison-based EatStreet.

Social media advertising can be more specifically targeted than traditional print or media buys by tapping into users’ activity on each platform. Research suggests that younger people respond to online and social media more than older consumers. Some 51 percent of millennials say they trust online and social media, compared with just 27 percent of baby boomers, according to a recent survey by Clutch, the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm.

John Krull, creative director at Shine United in Madison, says using social media to reach targeted audiences has been “pretty much all the rage” over the past few years and not just because younger people are spending so much time on their devices.

“Clients especially like it because it provides instant results that can be 100 percent tracked,” he says. Shine United’s clients have included Harley-Davidson, Wisconsin Cheese, Amazon, Discover Card, Gore-Tex and GE Healthcare.

But Andy Wallman of KW2 thinks “the jury is still out” on whether social media advertising with its pop-up ads and targeted messages will prove any more effective than traditional methods. KW2’s clients have included Berkshire Hathaway, Lands’ End, Schwinn and the state of Wisconsin.

Furthermore, it can be tricky targeting savvy young adults on social media, Wallman says. In fact, Chicago media suggested Wisconsin’s efforts got a cool initial response from those it intended to reach — young adults who enjoy mass transit and love living in a vibrant city with its miles of Lake Michigan beaches and $100 million investment in new bicycle infrastructure.

“An ad targeting millennials on social media can backfire and do long-term brand damage because social media is so, so dear to them.”

Mike Ivey is a Madison-based writer.