Copyranter: The life of a millennial consumer (according to stock photos)

Mark Duffy has written the Copyranter blog for 10 years and is a freelancing copywriter with 20-plus years of experience. His hockey wrist shot is better than yours.

In recent years, stock photos have been mocked by snarky know-nothings, notably peaking in 2011 with this Hairpin post “Women Laughing Alone With Salad.”

Screw them. We in advertising have long understood the great value of stock photos, even more so today, what with so many clueless tech and startup clients giving you insultingly paltry production budgets. But the moment you find that perfect photo is just the most rewarding moment for a creative, and oh look — it’s royalty free!

Why brands haven’t tapped stock photos more often for valuable insight into the lives of the coveted-yet-elusive millennials is a mystery and a shame.

If you search “millennial” and “Generation Y” on Shutterstock, you get a combined 1,324 hits, a goldmine of content.

Given the proven efficacy of stock photo searches — veteran copywriters/art directors, please share your experiences in the comments — you can safely surmise that the carefully curated results from these searches present a pretty accurate snapshot of the life of a millennial consumer. Included are educated guesses at some of these youngsters’ favorite brands.

1. “Multitasking” comes natural to these always-busy 18-34-year-olds, as does eating inordinate amounts of popcorn. Favorite brands: Pop Secret, Imodium (chewable).


2. Although they certainly don’t do it as much as young Boomers did, many “millens” do like to drink and drive around their hometowns, specifically apparently chugging cognac out of martini glasses. Favorite brands: Courvoisier, Rolaids, Toilet Duck.


3. Gen Y spends lots of time on “social media” and “apps.” As you can see to the right there, this cute feller in the dandy cardigan uses them mostly for “hook-ups.” Favorite brands: Tinder, OK Cupid,, eHarmony, Lavalife, Adult FriendFinder, Trojan Magnum, KY, Warby Parker.


4. They are “punk rawk!” (Well technically, post-post-post “punk rock,” now called “pop punk” — a term that makes zero musical sense). Favorite band: pop-punkers Mixtapes. Favorite brands: X (or molly, the drug-formerly-known-as-X, not the post-punk glam punk band), Urban Outfitters.


5. And they are most certainly rebels, but with causes. They give “the finger” to authority and are often seen flashing sort-of gang signs to show that they are “down” with “it.” Favorite brands: “Riri,” Garnier, Affliction.


6. “Half Kim Kardashian, half Miley Cyrus” is an accurate description of the personalities of many millennials, you’ll find. Favorite brands: Ray-Ban, Apple, him/herself.


7. This is the sole black man that shows up in either search. He is called “successful businessman” in the Shutterstock photo description, and, as you can see by his sprinter position, he is a “go-getter.” He is not wearing socks, which means blisters. Favorite brands: I have no idea.


8. Online “gaming” is big with Gen Y males of all ages, as is getting outraged by anonymous troll commenters/being an anonymous troll commenter. Favorite brands: EA, IKEA, PornHub, Yankee Candle (note book-less bookshelves—books are dead, sorry gasping publishing houses).


9. “Belly” shirts and pre-ripped jeans are two fashion staples of female Y-ers, coast-to-coast. Favorite brands: G-Star (Raw), 7 For All Mankind, Plan B.


10. Lastly, they go bonkers over anything pumpkin-flavored and, of course, love Rutherford B. Hayes-level beards (and beard jewelry) that would have gotten them harassed in the glorious clean-shaven Reagan ’80s. Favorite brands: Pinnacle pumpkin pie vodka, pumpkin pie Pringles, Wild Willie’s Beard Elixir, Smashing Pumpkins.


There you have it, hungry brands: a “deep dive” into the millennial consumerist world, courtesy of the best free online resource for market research, bar none.

More in Marketing

Reflections and revelations: Cannes ad execs confront responsibility amid industry chaos

Responsibility isn’t usually a strong suit for ad execs at Cannes, but this year, it took center stage.

Under the skin of sunscreen challenger brand Vacation’s email newsletter strategy

A curated approach to email could provide marketers with alternatives ahead of cookie deprecation.

Why the ‘year of gaming’ might be the ad industry’s next ‘year of mobile’

The fact that the much-anticipated “year of gaming” hasn’t happened yet is not necessarily a harbinger of doom for the gaming industry and its advertising dreams. Much like how mobile is now a standard advertising channel despite the lack of an agreed-upon “year of mobile,” the hype surrounding the concept of a “year of gaming” could simply fade away as gaming becomes a default method for individuals to socialize online and access digital content.