FOMO marketing – the new way to target Millennials

Concerns over missed social opportunities can be a major driver for Millennials, as the travel industry has discovered.

The poster in the travel agent’s window shows a group of young people partying in a lively European resort. In the midst of the action, a greyed-out silhouette suggests that someone important is missing. ‘FOMO? Book now for Europe,’ says the slogan below.

While FOMO or Fear of Missing Out entered the lexicon only a decade or so ago, it has quickly struck a chord with Millennials. As their smartphones feed through an endless stream of pop-up photos showing friends at different gigs and events, there is always the underlying concern that someone, somewhere may be having more fun. FOMO encapsulates the anxieties of a generation that has grown up in the age of social media.

Now marketers are catching on too. FOMO appeals are being used to promote everything from female hygiene products to music festivals, but they are particularly popular with travel agents selling flights and holiday packages. Students love to travel with friends and the average 19 to 24-year-old takes on average 1.4 trips a year of at least four nights’ duration. With 450,000 in this age group at Australian universities, student travel is a significant market.

But how effective are FOMO campaigns at targeting the youth audience? And what is the best way to incorporate such tactics in your marketing strategy?

Dr Chris Hodkinson, a marketing expert with UQ Business School, has been studying the use of FOMO for six years. In his most recent research project, he carried out interviews and focus groups with young students to gain a better understanding of their experience of FOMO and its applications in marketing.

He says: “The use of ‘missing out’ appeals is nothing new as they have long been a part of sales tactics – in fact almost half of all the standard sales closing techniques involve an element of missing out, also known as ‘standing room only’. In our research we wanted to explore how this approach could be applied to an external marketing campaign.”

While some of the students taking part had not previously heard of the term, almost all of them reported being the target of FOMO appeals – both from commercial sources and from family and friends. In fact the majority of examples they gave were from people who were known to them. Typically these involved texts, phone calls, Facebook invitations or face to face requests such as ‘come out with me, we’ll have a really great time’ or the warning that ‘you’re going to miss out’.

The students felt that face to face invitations were the most influential, although less so when they came from a sales person rather than a family member or friend. As with advertising, the appeal was seen as more credible if it came from a trustworthy source.

“In particular, missing out on social events was keenly felt especially when other people they knew would be there,” added Dr Hodkinson. “As one student told us, ‘What makes it worse is when other people you know are going and they always talk about it.’ In some cases an element of competition was evident.

“Opportunity, limited supply or scarcity and the need to make choices were recurring themes. There were also spontaneous mentions of ‘opportunity cost’ or ‘sacrifice’, implying that choosing one course of action meant missing out on another option.”

While students generally started off by rationally considering the options, they found that emotions crept in as they anticipated how they would feel about missing the opportunity. The more time they had to make a decision, the more they could dwell on it. Although ‘fear’ might be too strong a word, they reported feeling stress or concern before the event, and regret, disappointment and sometimes guilt afterwards.

“The research confirms that significant social pressures exist in the youth and student travel market,” adds Dr Hodkinson. “Cohort travel is the norm and the the creation of group experiences is central to the youth vacation. In view of this, social media is the logical vehicle for promoting group inclusion.

“FOMO-type communications can be used to increase sales and group size before a trip, especially if referral marketing techniques are employed, and also encourage non-participants to travel when the next opportunity arises.”

He offers the following advice for travel retailers:

  • Before the trip – maximise anticipated regret by encouraging students to ‘like’ and ‘share’ the vacation offer. Consider offering ‘the more-the-merrier’ promotions.
  • During the trip – increase regret among non-participants by encouraging social media activity - for example by refunding accommodation wifi charges to enable travellers to post ‘fun’ pictures on a daily basis.
  • Afterwards – to confirm that non-participants have missed out, provide incentives for travellers to display ‘good times’ photos on social media and obtain permission to use them on your own website. Run a competition for the best destination pictures depicting ‘group fun’.

Dr Hodkinson adds: “Both anticipated regret and actual post-event regret are integral elements of the FOMO response, and marketers can leverage these by using appropriate communications at each stage – by inferring that an individual might miss out beforehand, is missing out during the trip or has missed out afterwards. Used in this way, FOMO appeals can be a very effective way to target the youth market.”

Last updated:
9 June 2023