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What's Millennial Cringe And What Does It Mean For Marketers?

Jamie Landry
March 7, 2024
Last Updated On
millennial cringe blog header

On social media, where almost every move is documented, shared and scrutinized, the concept of ‘cringe’ has found fertile ground to flourish, especially among Millennials and Gen Z. Millennials have been witness to massive advancements in technology and culture shifts, along with the evolution of social media — and these have largely helped shaped their sense of humor and online identities. 

However, like any pop culture movement or trend of the past, many aspects of millennial online culture have become out-of-date or passé, particularly among Gen Z, who derive entertainment and amusement from analyzing and mimicking ‘cringe’ millennial humor.

What’s Millennial Cringe?

Millennial cringe refers to the phenomenon among Gen Z (and even some millennials or Gen X) to perceive specific behaviors, trends or cultural elements as overly earnest, awkward or embarrassing. It's important to clarify that not all millennials are inherently 'cringe'; rather, the term highlights particular aspects or habits that have become stereotypically associated with this demographic.

However, you can also look at millennial cringe through the lens of humor and nostalgia. It’s an interesting study of how digital trends evolve — with many millennials also chiming in about how Gen Z humor will eventually meet the same ‘cringy’ fate. 

Millennial cringe typically revolves around certain trends, jokes, phrases or social media trends that, over time, have come to be viewed as outdated or out of touch by both younger generations and even millennials themselves. Examples might include the overuse of terms like ‘adulting,’ a penchant for avocado toast or early internet humor and aesthetics that seem dated.

Examples of Millennial Cringe

So, which past cringe millennial phrases, memes and sayings are a topic of conversation, even in 2024? We explored some of the most common TikTok trends and content associated with this specific brand of cringe. 

Millennial Cringe by Gen Z

A trend that’s taken many forms over the last couple of years is mimicking millennial behaviors and trends, like mustache humor or the infamous millennial pause. Many creators, like Bianca Caglione (@biancecaglione) have made a name for themselves enacting various scenarios how a stereotypical, cringy millennial would. 

woman stands on red universal studios amusant park carper
Image credit: @biancecaglione

Cringe Compilations 

A longstanding component in the world of online cringe, ‘cringe compilations’ involve short videos or specific snippets of longer videos that sum up a particular brand of cringe — these often range from age demographics, like Gen Z or millennials, or ‘cringe’ taken from non-functioning social platforms, like Vine. 

tiktok cringe compilation screenshot
Image credit: @jimmycocoapuffs

Millennials On Millennials 

Of course, millennials themselves are weighing in on the concept of millennial cringe, poking fun and discussing their own cringe millennial things. In this example, user Alysa Browne (@alysabrowne) incorporates the ‘I’m a ___, of course I…’ TikTok trend, to touch on the differences between Gen Z and millennials in a funny, lighthearted way. 

woman wearing green tshirt standing in front of mirror
Image credit: @alysabrowne

How People Are Talking About Millennial Cringe

How do users talk about and engage with ‘cringe’ content online? We used Social Listening to pull the most popular keywords, posts and more to get a closer look at how users interact with this content. From nostalgia to playful jests, we looked at 636 posts, from February 13, 2023, to March 3, 2024, to examine how different groups perceive and engage with the quirks and trends that have come to define millennial cringe.

Millennial Cringe Keywords

There are many words associated with cringe on social media. We only focused on keywords related to ‘millennial cringe’ to filter out more general cringe content. In terms of share of voice, the media and publishing industry holds 100% SOV. Overall, most of the discussion happened on X, followed by Instagram. 

These are the ‘cringe’ keywords and phrases with a negative sentiment used most to discuss cringe: 

  • Millennial
  • Cringe
  • Humor
  • Taylor
  • Gen Z
  • Acting
  • Dohho
  • Boomer
  • Finition 
  • Peak
  • Acting

These are the ‘cringe’ keywords and phrases with a negative sentiment used most to discuss cringe: 

  • Generations 
  • Honestly
  • Tortured Poets Department

Top Performing Millennial Cringe Posts 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top-performing posts on this topic involve Taylor Swift and Harry Potter. These posts perfectly capture the essence of millennial cringe, resonating with a blend of humor and relatability.

Overall, posts associated with ‘millennial cringe’ received 20.2K total engagements and 54 average engagements per post. 

Harry Potter 

This post by @thriftedbytea features a unique, 2000s-era vintage Harry Potter blanket from the series' first book for sale. Despite acknowledging that Harry Potter is sometimes seen as ‘millennial cringe’ and expressing disapproval of J.K. Rowling, they admire this thrift find for its uniqueness and design, which includes an argyle/diamond pattern and multi-colored tassels. This post uses a blend of nostalgia and cultural commentary to showcase an appealing item despite changing perceptions.

harry potter tapestry blanket
Image credit: @thriftedbytea

Millennial Cringe Revival 

This X post by Lauren Morrill (@LaurenEMorrill) simultaneously celebrates the upcoming new release from Taylor Swift, ‘The Tortured Poets Department’. Their post playfully asserts that millennials are reclaiming their moment, suggesting that it's time for Gen Z to step aside in a light-hearted way. This tweet captures a sense of nostalgia and self-aware humor, resonating with many who identify with millennial digital and cultural milestones.

tweet about taylor swift's the tortured poets department album
Image credit: @LaurenEMorrill

Should Your Brand Embrace Millennial Cringe or Back Away? 

Deciding whether a brand should lean into or away from millennial cringe, particularly using humor or discussing it on their accounts, depends largely on the brand's identity, audience and strategic goals.

Reasons To Lean Into Millennial Cringe

For many reasons, your brand might want to lean into millennial cringe — whether partaking or critiquing. These reasons include: 

  • Audience Engagement: If a brand's target audience includes millennials, embracing millennial cringe humor can foster relatability and engagement. It shows the brand is in tune with its audience and can participate in shared cultural experiences. Conversely, if your target audience is Gen Z or Gen Alpha, you might decide to critique it or simply engage with other content that makes light of ‘cringe humor’. 
  • Brand Personality: For brands with a casual, playful or irreverent tone, millennial cringe content can be a natural fit. It can reinforce the brand's persona and strengthen its connection with followers.

Reasons To Lean Away Into Millennial Cringe

For many brands, not engaging with millennial cringe at all is best for your social strategy. These reasons include: 

  • Risk Alienating Users: There's a risk of alienating audiences who don't identify with or appreciate this type of humor. Brands must be cautious not to appear mocking or insensitive.
  • Brand Consistency: For brands with a more serious or professional image, millennial cringe content might clash with their established identity. It's crucial for a brand to maintain a consistent voice and image.

Whether to embrace or avoid millennial cringe content is a strategic decision that should align with a brand's identity, audience preferences, and overall marketing objectives. When done right, it can enhance engagement and brand personality; when misaligned, it can detract from the brand's image and alienate segments of the audience.

Turn Millennial Cringe Into Social Media Clout With Dash Hudson

Through Dash Hudson’s Community Manager, social teams can easily identify, escalate and respond to the most important user interactions on all of their social accounts. Your team can quickly and easily spot how users respond to your content — including whether or not they think it’s cringe. 

Social teams can also tap into AI-Powered Social Listening — like we did in this blog — to dive into specific keywords, themes and trends their audience may or may not be interested in. Here, you can also analyze the sentiment of different keywords to discover whether or not these terms will resonate with your target audience. 


What is the millennial pause?

The ‘millennial pause’ refers to the hesitation or moment of delay that millennials often do at the start of filming TikTok or other short form video content. 

What is cringe millennial slang?

Cringe millennial slang encompasses phrases, words, or trends that were popular among millennials but are now viewed as outdated or embarrassing by both younger generations and some millennials themselves. Examples include terms like "YOLO" (You Only Live Once), ‘on fleek’, or overusing hashtags. These slang terms, once trendy, now often evoke a sense of second-hand embarrassment or cringe.

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