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July 28, 2017

Stop blaming millennials for 'killing' things that suck

Beer, chain restaurants and even marriage? It's not the customer, it's the product

Opinion Millennials
Applebee's Paul Sakuma/AP Photo

Exterior of an Applebee's sign near their restaurant in Milpitas, Calif., Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2007.

The word "kill" obviously carries a pretty heavy implication. It means one actively caused the death of a person or thing or idea. I did this to you.

With that in mind, millennials are savage murderers, apparently, responsible for the death of many, many things. The latest in a series of headlines using the formula "millennial kills X product/business" pegs my generation with the death of beer.

The headline of the Business Insider article, of course, is grossly misleading. "Millennials are killing the beer industry" is an aggregation of a CNBC report, citing a downgrade in the stocks of the two companies that make Sam Adams, Corona and Modelo.

"We view the shift in penetration and consumption trends as driven by a shift in preferences in the younger cohorts," Goldman Sachs analyst Freda Zhuo told CNBC.

Somehow, the story shifted from "change in younger consumer trends" to "millennials are KILLING the beer industry," or are "to blame."

What seems to be missing in this growing media trend is usually the question: Is the thing we're killing even good in the first place?

I don't hate Sam Adams or Corona. But with the explosion of microbreweries, craft beers and how easy it is to find them, I also have hundreds of other options, so a marginally more upscale domestic and a watery beach beer aren't necessarily going to be my first option.

Sure, the same report said that there's an overall decline in the beer industry — including craft beer — as millennials lean more toward wine and spirits, as well as marijuana. But if we want pot and hard liquor, then that's what we want. Responsibility doesn't fall on a consumer to align preferences with a business' product, it's the other way around.

How about the death of casual-dining chain restaurants, like Buffalo Wild Wings and Applebee's? We're killing that too! But here's the thing: For the most part, those restaurants are terrible! Have you ever had the re-heated appetizers they serve you at Applebee's? The sad excuse for buffalo chicken bites at Wild Wings? You may tell yourself you like it, but you don't. You tolerate it.

Millennial consumers are opting for other options like cooking at home and "fast-casual" spots like Chipotle and Panera. You know why? Because both of those options are cheaper and (depending on your cooking ability) better food. A headline that suggests we're "killing" casual dining restaurants, which sounds like I walked into the nearest Olive Garden and started kicking employees in the shins, seems rather inappropriate.

When millennials "kill" something, it's usually because said thing wasn't that great in the first place, or something better has come along. Focus groups? Who wants to be psycho-analyzed to benefit advertisers? Running? Yeah, running sucks (and there are more engaging fitness options). Marriage? Great for some people, but lots of them end in divorce. Why not be more cautious about entering a partnership like that?

This supposed millennial killing spree is a weird, reverse capitalism framing. It's your fault for not liking this thing. It might sound like a minor point, but language — especially when it's repeated — is important. The "millennials are lazy narcissists" stereotype has been refuted several times, but it still persists. 

Ask anyone under the age of 35, and they're sure to have multiple examples of the generation into which they were born being used against them in professional, social or family settings. By placing blame on a generation for something, you continue the decades-long cycle of old-man-yells-at-cloud style of thinking about younger people that so many generations inherit.

So, from millennials everywhere to businesses and the people who write about them, let's be clear: It's you, not me.

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