Unless you have been living under a rock with no access to social media, you have noticed your newsfeed has been ﬂooded with the likes of “What _________ are you?” and “Which ____________ should you ___________?”
“If I see one, I have to take it!” is a common response for Millennials today (those born between 1982 and 2000) when they are asked about their online quiz-taking habits.
In recent months, the Internet has seen a resurgence of online quizzes. Websites like BuzzFeed and Zimbio have been leading this trend, but even USA Today, Huﬃngton Post, The Guardian, and The Times Online have followed suit with trying to attract these personality fanatics. Two of the quizzes credited with restarting this trend are Buzzfeed’s “What City Should You Actually Live In?” released Jan. 16, 2014 and The New York Times’ “How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk,” the most viewed post of 2013.
Melissa Rosenthal, director of creative services at BuzzFeed stated in regard to their quiz phenomenon, “People love to share things that say something about who they are.”
The rise of quiz popularity is of course because they are amusing and entertaining, however there is something more that these Millennials are gaining besides a good laugh on social media; these quizzes foster curiosity. Millennials want to ﬁnd out about themselves and the world around them. Sharing the results (on social media and in person) is a way for them to learn about themselves in relation to one another.
This isn’t anything new. The quest to discover ourselves can be seen our interest in inkblots, horoscopes, tarot card readings, Cosmopolitan magazine tests, Myers-Briggs tests and even Chinese zodiac signs. So, it’s not that these quizzes do anything new; they are just the 2014 iteration of these past tools.
It used to just be “Oh, you’re a Scorpio? Me too, that explains why we butt heads!” or “You’re ESTJ, that’s why we get along,” these quizzes, similar to their precursors, are a form of common ground we can share with peers and others around us. It’s a way for us to see how and where we ﬁt in and where others do as well.
“Americans are some of the most tested people in the world, we’re used to receiving feedback,” said Dr. Jeﬀ Green from the VCU Psychology department. It’s no wonder Millennials use this information to unearth new things about themselves. For previous generations, it was important to identify with particular groups that were based on abilities and milestones, not personality traits. “The U.S. has become a more individualistic and less collectivist culture over time,” noted Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University Psychology professor. In a study she conducted, she found “Between 1960 and 2008, the number of uses of “I” or “me” increased 42%, and instances of “we” or “us” declined 10%, in hundreds of thousands of American books, both ﬁction and nonﬁction.”
Being part of a particular group and using traditional descriptors like jock, straight ‘A’ student and prep are not enough for younger generations. Millennials are ﬁnding new ways to discover and relate to the world. Pew states “They [Millennials] embrace multiple modes of self-expression,” which is why these quizzes have become so popular. Through the quiz results, Millennials are given an abundance of ways to be self-expressive. The results also illuminate tribes Millennials can become a part of. Instead of just being a fan of Game of Thrones through quiz result they get to see themselves in terms of familiar
characters, which increases their aﬃnity to the GOT tribe.
These “arbitrary” quizzes have been given ‘power’ because Millennials are interested in deﬁning themselves and ﬁnding tribes to belong to. It feels gratifying to nail down some intangibles and understand a little more about yourself. These quiz results attach a hyperbolic, relatable and sometimes ﬁctional label on a small trait, for instance: if you are loyal, you are Katniss Everdeen because her character displays this in the Hunger Games trilogy. In a focus group, a Millennial revealed that through these easy quizzes, “They stimulate a conversation with myself…hmm, really? I wonder why I got what I got (in terms of the result)”
The ability to ask ‘why’ has driven our civilization forward, because it informs us and compels us to wonder. When do we wonder the most? Well, there’s change happening in our lives. The majority of this happens when we are in our 20’s and 30’s, which happens to be Millennials today. Their questions and concerns are no diﬀerent than those of past generations. When we are at this age we can’t help but want to learn more. What do we want to be when we grow up? Am I going to get married? Should I go back to school? Where am I going to live?
This makes sense that Millennials are addicted to these quizzes. No other generation is at this vulnerable transition period right now. Generation X has ﬁgured out most of the answers to their questions and Generation Z does not have the need for them just yet. And let’s face it, the Boomers have no idea what Gryﬃndor is anyway.
The three ‘-tions’ of Quizzes
These quizzes are produced en masse daily because the results and descriptions help to validate, distribute, and reﬂect on an understanding of oneself.
When Millennials get to the end of the quiz and see their result, they either think, “That’s me” or “No, that answer is completely wrong.” Though Millennials are still ﬁguring themselves out, they are aware of themselves enough to know when an answer has nothing to do with who they are. When a die-hard Britney Spears fan takes the Pop Diva quiz and gets Ms. Spears, their response is, “Of course I’m part of the Britney Army!” because of their dedication to the artist. These quizzes put Millennials in a box [labeling], and if that box resonates with them they feel understood. For instance, Millennial Kill Your Darlings writer, Julia Tulloh revealed, “When I discovered I should get drunk with Beyonce a small part of me actually felt validated.” While most of these results range from aspirational to nonsensical, they serve a purpose: They give Millennials a way to understand themselves.
This occurs when Millennials share their results with people in their social circles online and oﬀ. These results are based
on recognizable people and events, such as “Which My Little Pony Character Are You”, “Which WWE Wrestler Are You”, or “Which Country’s Fiscal System Are You?” They spark conversation that invites others with similar interests to be aware of the quizzes and take them. People are hesitant to declare what they’re good, like “I’m a really good friend” or “I’m the life of the party.” These quizzes give the Millennials a chance to brag humbly about a quality they identify with. They share their results because there is a third party, in most cases BuzzFeed or Zimbio, broadcasting it on their behalf. They can now say, “I’ve always known I was the life of the party, but I got Rihanna, so of course I’ll share that!” or “I love fashion, of course I should live in Paris!” Distribution becomes part of their social currency and allows Millennials to express who they are through these results their audience understands.
Distribution is about the result, while reﬂection focuses on the description. The only reason Millennials would take these descriptions seriously is because they recognize a kernel of truth. It dismantles their sense of self for a moment, and makes them wonder what they can do to either play to their strengths or change a negative characteristic. Millennials say quizzes are “fun, but bittersweet,” because they are entertaining and amusing, however they can cause a ﬂeeting anxiety to act on the feedback received. One Millennial said,
“I got Marnie from the HBO show GIRLS quiz, and I was disgusted, I hate her. It made me question how I’m perceived.” Pennsylvania University Marketing professor Jonah Berger said, “People love knowing about themselves.” It allows them to reﬂect on the feedback they received to know how they come across to others. Millennials are merely using the tools at their disposal to understand themselves more. Why can’t they be an Interior Designer Miss Piggy with a key lime pie aura destined to live in Tokyo?
Why Should We Care?
We know that these quizzes are personal, so it is beneﬁcial for brands to be a part of it and gain access to this intimate and important space. Millennials currently represent the largest demographic in the US with diﬀerent needs when it comes to advertising and purchase behaviors. It has been said that traditional marketing methods are not the best ways to reach them. They prefer brands to engage with them, and are more eager to share through social media compared to other generations. Beyond the fact that Millennials love taking quizzes, brands need to show their love and understanding of these quizzes as well.
Brand-“sponsored” quizzes can help raise engagement and conversation between the brand and its consumers. The quizzes can cause and will cause interaction with the brand for a longer and more meaningful time as opposed to a quick ‘like’ on a Facebook post. This is a great way for brands to kindle and ignite current tribe member devotion, as well as having potential to bring in non-tribe quiz takers to their realm.
What can these quizzes do for brands?
- Identify who these people are, giving understanding to the consumer more (their likes, dislikes and behaviors)
- Cause current tribe members to share content of their favorite brands and start a conversation
- Tempt non-tribe members to share content they normally wouldn’t by causing them to interact with a brand they never had before or to that extent
- Strengthens understanding and awareness of the brand by answering questions that are relatable and entertaining
- Allows the brand to feel real, to become apart of their current life
- Gives understanding of the audience for the brand when looking at where the quiz is shared, how it is shared, what comments are made in regard to the quiz and also the simple fact of what answers were chosen and results came out of it
These quizzes may seem meaningless and silly, but in fact can provide a great platform for brands to interact with consumers on a diﬀerent level in a place they are already frequenting and show a growing interest in. The quizzes provide a great, new way to keep tribe members engaged, while enlisting new ones in a more personal and real way.