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The “Secret” to Millennial Relationships: They’re People

By Ngozi Assata

Any effective brand today is in the business of feelings. The secret strategy of those brands, especially when it comes to reaching the desirable millennial market, is always to tell the audience a compelling story. This is especially true in the saturated industry of advertising, where there are far too many sellers, and not enough storytellers. Since people no longer feel connected to content in the media, advertisers must find new ways to reach their audiences. This makes sharing stories and experience more vital than ever. Storytelling must be compelling enough to inspire audiences to tell the story again —it’s the now and future of advertising.

Any communications class will tell you that communication and mutual disclosure are absolutely necessary to build interpersonal relationships. Even with the strongest attraction, two-way communication must be present in the relationship building process to maintain a connection. And the even the strongest connections burn out quickly when communication is lacking.

Advertising is not so different. After all, brands are dealing with real humans, and real humans are emotional beings that crave connection.

Consumers are starting to distrust brands that follow the traditional advertising structure. One-way communication that asks only of the consumer while giving nothing of the advertiser just doesn’t give people anything to work with. Consumers are like a frustrated significant other wanting to be let in, and the brand is that partner that just won’t open up. People need a story they can participate in to feel connected to the people and things around them, and that includes brands. It is critical for people to feel like they are in a thriving relationship with the brands they support. Approaching consumers with a story is a gift from the brand, and it begins the process of mutual disclosure on the side of the brand that is essential for building trust. Giving consumers a story is more than just a way to hook them — it’s the beginning of a dialogue with the customer. Emotional maintenance is not just necessary in individual’s relationships, but in the marketplace as well.

A new campaign used a societal gap that needs closing as a means to bridge the similar one with their customers.

Secret Deodorant has released an ad that NY Magazine called “groundbreaking,” portraying a transgender woman in a bathroom stall, who is anxious to emerge after hearing a few boisterous and giggly women enter the room. Audiences watch the increasingly apprehensive protagonist, Dana, and feel apprehensive as well. Her raw emotions are captured so effectively that anyone who watches this ad is mentally transported to a moment when they felt her anxiety. Even though the audience cannot hear Dana’s heartbeat, they know it’s beating fast — just like their own. They know that she is probably building up a bit of a sweat. Secret swoops in and assures its female audience that they have their backs — that moments like these are what the product is made for.


The effectiveness of the ad goes far beyond its addressing of an important social issue, and is encapsulated in an empowering message with the tagline: “there is no wrong way to be a woman.” The ad itself creates vulnerability on the part of the brand, and uses this disclosure to build trust. Secret stretches out their arms for a virtual embrace and lets audiences know that it’s okay to be who you are, because being yourself is never wrong. This message has the power to impact any woman that has ever felt inadequate (which is a lot). This inspirational narrative maneuvers its way deep into the heart, finds its strings, and tugs on them with vigor. The power of portraying Dana’s story is undeniable, and encourages audiences to open up their own emotional core in return.

Secret’s ad impacted women from every generation, but it has especially garnered the attention of the famously skeptical millennial audience: one of the most important audiences of today, and one of the hardest to impress. Based on studies published in ‘Psychology Today’, millennials are generally socially conscious and have a high tolerance for diversity. They value social responsibility from brands they support — Secret knows its audience and is speaking directly to them. The core of advertising today isn’t to rush to a purchase decision, at least not among millennials. The millennial purchase journey is not cut and dry, but is a dynamic process that unfolds with authenticity and empathetic connection.

Advertisers like Secret are entering the narrative that is already occurring within consumer’s brains. Millennial communication is saturated with self-reflection, understanding their environment, and building interpersonal relationships. What Secret did so well is, well, they didn’t hide anything. They know the insecurities faced by their consumers and that those insecurities are the narratives happening in their minds. Secret let the cat out of the bag, and in a brief snippet, said: “we feel your pain, and here’s a way to never feel that again.” Secret respected the process of self-empowerment, which many millennials strive for in their media consumption and purchasing behaviors. They told a story which has been repeated over and over in personal conversations then offered solace through none other than a product. By placing trust in their audience and beginning the process of mutual disclosure, Secret served that understanding up on a platter.

Storytelling is the key to brand development for the foreseeable future. People aren’t so easily seduced by traditional advertising anymore, and brands must adapt to the growing need for connection to survive in a competitive climate. By telling stories brands increase engagement, create a sense of community, and ultimately build relationships.


Ngozi Assata is an associate at Woden. Whatever your storytelling needs may be, let Woden help. Read our free StorytellingBlueprint, or send us an email at to discuss how we can help tell your story.