Boomers are far likelier to have positive associations with their generation.

For at least the past decade, marketers have been scrutinizing “millennial” customers and creating campaigns and products to suit their tastes. But new data from the Pew Research Center suggests that actually using the word “millennial” may not be in brands’ best interest.

Pew Social Trends

When asked whether they described themselves as “millennials,” only 40% of people ages 18–34 said they did. This compares to 79% of boomers (51–69) and 58% of generation X (35–50) who identified with their respective generations. Older millennials often tended to round themselves up to generation X, with 33% of millennials claiming the label.

Further results from Pew suggested why people 18–34 might shun identification with their own generation: they view “millennials” in a strikingly negative light. They said millennials were self-absorbed (59%) and wasteful (49%), while few said millennials were moral (17%), responsible (24%), or willing to sacrifice (15%).

Given the large amount of negative media attention focused on millennials in the likes of Time, the New York Times and many other publications, maybe it’s no surprise that millennials want to distance themselves from their generational label.

Brands need to remember that while it might may pay off to target campaigns to millennials’ tastes and preferences, this needs to be done in an understated way that does not appear to be directed at “millennials” as such.