People are sick of being sold.

At least, they’d like to think they are. People still want to buy things, sure—but they want the things they buy to feel less indulgent, less flashy, more necessary.

For many in the ever-intriguing generation that spans 18- to 35-year-olds, something truly worthy of purchase shouldn’t require advertising. This group—famous for chasing experiences rather than things—believes a product’s quality should speak for itself. Its value should be self-explanatory. Whether you’d prefer to attribute it to the revival of minimalism, recession hangover, the impending digitalization of all our possessions, or whatever—there’s a revolt against excess. And the future holds more of the same.

Nevertheless, even the most frugal families need to consume—and when you add it all up, there are A LOT of basic needs that need to be met. Maslow would tell you that includes things beyond food and shelter.

For marketers and companies selling to this generation, the answer isn’t just to be cleverer, more data-driven, or more irresistible. It’s to communicate value in a way the modern shopper finds appealing and agrees with. Simple, right? Probably not. Like most worthwhile pursuits, it seems to be a balancing act.

In the “golden age of advertising,” being on TV meant legitimacy. Today, most consumers trust online resources more than the messages bombarding them over the airways. It’s not that video as a content form has lost its veracity—it’s that the credibility of the vehicles has changed. For marketers, where you have the conversation is more important than what the conversation is about.

Let’s look at some examples of brands making a name for themselves without the traditional brand marketing—brands that survive by building a business rooted in a deep understanding of the modern shopper, marked by a willingness to be flexible and responsive to customer psychology. They eschew either a physical retail presence, traditional advertising, visible branding on their products, or all of the above. Still, you’ve probably heard of them—and that success speaks for itself.

Warby Parker

The modern eyeglasses shopper is choosey. She doesn’t enjoy the pressure of picking out glasses at the optometrist’s office, sometimes while her eyes are dilated and she is basically blind. An unreasonably generous straight-to-consumer eyeglasses company, Warby Parker wins by letting her try on stylish frames at home, with no-middle-man prices and the friendly assistance of an elite service team.


The modern grocery shopper is exhausted. She’s tired of driving to the store, of reading dozens of ingredient labels, of making choice after choice after choice. A new kind of online grocer that promises transparent labeling without the brands, Brandless wins through simplicity of assortment, high-quality ingredients, and a clean website experience.


The modern smartphone shopper is bored. Even if he’s willing to spend top dollar, he doesn’t have an option that feels premium and fresh. The latest passion project from the creator of Android, Essential wins through “small-batch,” logo-free devices that exude minimal luxe within in a market of sameness.


The modern car shopper is at a crossroads. He wants performance, but he wants it to be planet-friendly. Evidence that there’s a method to Elon Musk’s madness, Tesla wins through world-changing vision, radical transparency, and a preorder/direct sales model that stokes hype within its zealous fan base.

Does your company belong on this list?

Not every breakthrough makes the headlines. Sometimes it’s the under-the-radar shifts that make the biggest difference for a business. But when your marketing is driven by shopper insights, you’re bound to make a splash with the customers you’re after.