Exclusive: Viacom’s New Study Is A Marketer’s Blueprint For Millennials

The short doc The Culture of Proximity digs into the notion that millennials see themselves as creators as much as consumers.

Exclusive: Viacom’s New Study Is A Marketer’s Blueprint For Millennials

In the seemingly never-ending analysis of the relationship between millennials and brands, there is, of course, the standard parade of buzzwords like engagement, authenticity, and influencers–but what about proximity?


Viacom’s in-house integrated marketing studio Velocity recently released The Culture of Proximity, a short documentary that provides context and supplementary interviews with academics, celebrities, futurists, etc. to support its study on the intersections of millennials, content distribution and consumption, and brands.

“I wanted to have this team of thought leaders take a look at what’s driving culture these days and ultimately what’s behind fans having more power and how they’re able to shape pop culture these days more than ever,” says Dario Spina, CMO of Viacom Velocity.

In the doc, writer and illustrator Tim Urban breaks down “the culture of proximity” as close culture (what’s created and shared among friends and family), mass culture (what everyone consumes together from larger entities), crowd culture (what’s created and consumed among “close culture” communities), and deep culture (the esoteric subcultures shared by a relatively limited number of people).

What this breakdown reinforces is the idea that there are continually growing avenues of entry for brands to reach millennials–exactly how far that reach should go could depend on Velocity’s findings from its study.

  • 86% of millennials say: “Fans have at least some ownership of the things they’re fans of.”
  • 70% of millennials say: “I choose activities that will give me things to post.”
  • 70% of millennials say: “We filter our social media feeds to only see what we want to see.”
  • 61% of millennials say: “I can influence popular culture.”
  • 51% of millennials say: “Messaging is just as personal as talking in person.”
  • 50% of millennials say: “Someone should make a movie about my life.”
  • 48% of millennials say: “I feel like I know my favorite celebrity.”
  • 33% of millennials say: “There isn’t really such a thing as ‘the truth.’”
  • 32% of millennials say: “Brands are as honest as people try to be.”
  • 29% of millennials admit: “I post things that make my life look better than it really is.”
  • Millennials says it’s okay to publicly share mental illness (70%), coming out (70%), going to rehab (55%), and having a miscarriage (50%).


Perhaps one of the most salient points that can be distilled from The Culture of Proximity is how millennials see themselves not only as consumers of what companies and brands distribute, but creators as well, which plays out across fan fiction, memes, and even so far as people becoming brands themselves, à la social media stars.

“Because of the advent of technology and social platforms, you’ve seen people go from reflective fans to fans taking a proactive approach where they feel that they have a much deeper control,” says Sean Moran, head of marketing and partner solutions at Viacom. “They don’t even like to call themselves fans because they feel there’s less of a wall between them and celebrities. I’m not a fan of something–that’s what my parents had been. I’m a participant in this culture.”

The Culture of Proximity airs April 19 on MTVU at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. ET.

About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.