You got your first gray hair even as you still live paycheck-to-paycheck. Congratulations, you’ve got the quarterlife-crisis blues.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. The term has gained currency in recent years, as young adults enter that awkward phase of no longer being children while not yet being fully functioning, self-sustaining members of society. They’re still figuring out their careers and their life partners even as the first signs of aging begin to creep in. The feeling of anxiety and dread that resides in the guts of most grown-ups is new to them; they don’t realize this is just simply what life feels like, so they’ve labeled it “quarterlife crisis.”
From Asos and Origins to LearnVest, marketers looking to reach the demographic are promising their goods and services — and directing millennials to other resources — to help them through this trying time in their lives.
— ASOS (@ASOS) June 9, 2016
The quarterlife crisis inspired last year’s Estée Lauder campaign for its skincare brand Origins, one of the highest-profile attempts by a brand to weigh in on the quarterlife crisis. After spending two years interviewing hundreds of millennials, the brand launched a new product targeted especially at millennials accompanied by an all-out digital campaign called “#QuarterLifeCrisis” around it.
After the Origins campaign, there have been more than 17,000 mentions of the phrase across social media between June 2015 and now, according to brand analytics firm Brandwatch. It is a recurring, mostly consumer-driven conversation especially on Twitter, where it has spiked in popularity in September 2015, November 2015, May 2016 and this month.
The term, like its spiritual cousin “adulting,” is often deployed self-deprecatingly on social media:
Sitting outside of Walmart at midnight listening to sad country eating Reese’s. What has my life come to. #quarterlifecrisis
— Dalton James (@DaltonDesrocher) May 27, 2016
“In social media where everyone is constantly inundated with aspirational messages, it’s such rich emotional territory,” said Katie McDonald, senior social marketing manager at Huge. “It is instantly relatable not just to millennials but also older generations that have also been through the stage.”
Which opens the gates for brands as diverse as 99 Cents Only and finance companies like LearnVest to create content around the topic.
— LearnVest (@LearnVest) June 2, 2016
— 99 Cents Only Stores (@99Only) March 8, 2016
The phrase is used even more among popular publishers like Cosmopolitan, Bustle and BuzzFeed, which frequently compile lists and stories that detail how their young readers to overcome the quarterlife crisis. In fact, feminist magazine Girls/Club’s most recent issue was entirely dedicated to the quarterlife crisis.
The quarterlife crisis, while similar to the adulting trend, risks, however, coming off as more potentially off-putting, cautioned Shannon Truax, head of social media at iCrossing.
“The word ‘crisis’ comes with some baggage; it’s not got a feel-good tone,” she said. “With all the actual crises taking place in the world, a brand that uses the term quarterlife crisis may be perceived as being tone-deaf.”
Samantha Jayne, a freelance art director for MullenLowe, and creator of the humorous Quarter Life Poetry Instagram account, agreed. “Quarterlife crisis is an umbrella issue,’ she said. “Focusing on the little struggles and nuggets within it would be more powerful strategy for brands.”
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