October 24th 2017, posted by

Copywriters: stop writing for millennials

Millennials laughing at copywriters’ attempts to appeal to them


Here are some of the things I hear frequently about writing for millennials. Advance warning: they’re all utter bullshit.

“Millennials have really short attention spans, so they won’t read anything over 140 characters.”
By this logic, millennials don’t read books. Apart from, say, all the Harry Potter books. You know, if we’re being all age-specific.

“Millennials can’t spell, so they don’t mind spelling mistakes.”
If they can’t spell, how do they know?

“Millennials don’t read.”

Clearly, this kind of nonsense is spouted by non-millennials (i.e. old people) who probably aren’t copywriters. Or not very good copywriters.

If you listen to these people long enough, they’ll have you believe that language as we know it is about to be replaced with emojis whose meaning is indecipherable to anyone over 33.

There’s no such thing as writing for millennials 
So what do the real ‘experts’ say? What advice can marketeers offer for directing our words at Gen Y? Not a lot, it turns out.

Take the following advice on how to write for millennials (note the use of a capital M, just so we’re clear on how important Millennials are). It should really be called ‘copywriting 101’, as you can replace the word ‘millennials’ with ‘all readers’ in every statement:

1. “Millennials will reject content if the visual effect is poor.”

2. “Millennials scan for important information rather than reading content in its entirety.”

3. “Don’t make Millennials feel that they aren’t being taken seriously or that you, the writer, are not trustworthy.”

4. “Meet Millennials’ needs and stop there.”

5. “Millennials are more responsive to visual context than block text.”

Does this mean your average 45-year-old will dutifully read blocks of patronising, irrelevant copy with no ‘visual effects’ to keep them interested?

Why are we so obsessed with millennials anyway?
There’s not much economic logic behind it. In most industries, Generation X and baby boomers have more spending power than millennials. So targeting millennials may end up being a costly distraction, and it could even alienate loyal customers who feel ignored.

Our obsession with how to write for millennials most likely comes down to something more primal: fear. Fear of the new. Fear of missing a trick. Fear of (whisper it) sounding old.

But millennials are the future! True, but the copywriters of today aren’t going to appeal to the biggest spenders of tomorrow by patronising them. Which is what will happen if we treat young people as a homogenous group that’s only interested in fleeting content and attention-grabbing visuals.

There’s no shortcut to knowing your readers
Before you leave this blog thinking I’m just a grouchy old wordsmith, let me reassure you: this is no more about millennials than it’s about octogenarians. What I want to do is dispel the myth that there’s one way to write to an entire generation.

Good copywriters take time to get to know their readers, beyond generalisations. They think of them as individuals, whose needs and tastes spread across all kinds of demographics.

There never has been – and never can be – a cheat sheet for writing for ‘millennials’. If you want to target your copy at your readers, find out what really matters to them and the things they genuinely have in common. I guarantee it won’t be “I’m 24.”

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