Rewriting the Script for Millennials

Marketing writing used to be about piling on the adjectives. That’s what you saw in ads, online, and on product packaging. Today, when you walk through a grocery store, you may be amazed to find copy that leaves you scratching your head. Take a look at the following, from the peanut company Lord Nut.

By day, he is Lord Nut. By night, he is secretly El Chedderales (dun-dun-duuuuun!), stealthily spreading his brilliant blend of cheddar cheese and spicy jalapeño. You know that he’s paid you a midnight visit by the exciting flavours left on your chiffonier and the etched sword mark on a wall in the shape of a hairless Chihuahua (what’s up with that?).


What on earth is this?

It’s an example of writing for the millennial market. And the odd thing is… it often works.

What do millennials look for in a brand? Personality. They want to buy brands that are witty, clever, and spunky — the same attributes they would like to have themselves.


Copywriting Workshop

Let’s imagine you’re trying to sell a watermelon-flavored drink. You have two options for your package copy:

Option I

Option II

Exploding with the delicious taste of watermelon, this drink will give you the splash of sweetness you’ve been waiting for. With just 5 calories and 1 gram of sugar per serving, you’ll love every juicy mouthful.

  So juicy, the tabloids are talking

  The rumors are true. Watermelon is finally here, and it’s making a huge splash. Surely you’ve heard your taste buds gushing about this big summer blockbuster. This premier flavor works  your tongue like a red carpet, and the paparazzi are swarming. Luckily, with just 5 calories and 1  gram of sugar per serving, this big, juicy flavor looks just as good on camera as it tastes in your mouth.

Which option do you choose?

The first uses traditional marketing techniques to describe the benefits of the drink.

The second option (a real description taken from Bai’s Kula Watermelon) takes it a step further. The copy offers no information lacking in the first. What it does instead is wax poetic and show off a personality that some younger consumers can easily relate to.

If that’s your market, the artistic direction is the way to go.


Let’s take a look at a few brands that do this well.


Case Study: Herbal Essences

Herbal Essences has been around for decades. In fact, in the 1970s, it became the brand of choice among “flower children” and those who admired them. In the early 2000s, the brand seemed destined to die of old age. Organic and natural products had edged them out of the market.

In 2006, P&G made the choice to rebrand the product line for Generation Y and millennials. Suddenly, the bottles dropped their old names like “Daily Clarifying Shampoo” or “Smooth Collection.” Instead, they now sported poetic names like “Drama Clean” or “Totally Twisted.”

Their marketing voice became young and trendy, slapping a proclamation to “live life to the fullest” on the back of their volumizing shampoo, and encouraging those using a moisturizing conditioner to “say hello to luscious hydrated locks.”

What a difference! Although the products themselves essentially stayed the same, the rebranding caught the attention of younger buyers, leading to a huge increase in profits. Their punchy prose had saved the day.


Case Study: Innocent Smoothies

The British company Innocent Drinks aims for a conversational tone, plus a dose of humor. Take a look at this description of their orange and clementine juice: “a pairing with more kick than Daniel-san and Mr Miyagi.”

And their product packaging? They have a whole gallery of them on their website, and they’re definitely… unique.

It’s quirky, it’s fun, and it targets the right demographic. Their products are the perfect choice for millennials. Innocent Drinks are relatively healthy, sustainably sourced, and produced by a company that gives 10% of its profits to charity. These values that are innate to many millennials — so writing to catch their attention is a smart move.


Case Study: Trader Joe’s

What’s the secret of Trader Joe’s marketing? A big piece is The Fearless Flyer, a cross between a newsletter and a circular that comes out eight times a year. It’s a witty publication describing many of Trader Joe’s products with sarcasm and banter, and even includes a few old-fashioned comic strips.

For example, take a look at this description for a mixture of chopped vegetables:

You might assume that this product is named for some obscure numerology reference or ancient scientific theory. Perhaps you assume it’s the 8th incarnation of this particular product. Nope. The origins of the name are much, much more mundane. Trader Joe’s Healthy 8 Chopped Veggie Mix is a simple mélange of eight healthy veggies. Really.

Sure, they could have described it as “a mixture of eight healthy vegetables” and been done with it. Instead, they connected to the consumer by using some tongue-in-cheek comments and a bit of self-deprecating humor. The Fearless Flyer is filled with similar product descriptions, which are actually entertaining on their own. Can you imagine people actually signing up to receive your marketing purely for its entertainment value? Trader Joe’s has managed the impossible.


The Caveats

Marketers, beware. While marketing to millennials has worked magically for many brands, you’ll want to make sure that your brand is one that would actually appeal to millennials before opting for spunky prose in your marketing. If you mainly target members of older generations, or if you want your products to have broad appeal. you may want to opt for a more traditional tone in your marketing materials.

Secondly, marketing to millennials – or any other demographic – can backfire miserably if you look like you’re trying too hard. Sometimes, marketers try to “be hip,” but they only end up sounding pathetic.

For example, slapping a label that says, “Dude, ROTFL, it’s gonna be epic, right?” onto a bottle of shaving cream isn’t going to endear you to your millennial consumers. They’ll just mock marketers who try too hard.

The key to making millennial marketing work is to be authentic. Reach inside and use your marketing to communicate more than dull platitudes. Use your copy as a way to distinguish yourself from the lookalike competition. Keep your tone light and your marketing genuine — and your customers will respond.