How NOT to write for millennials

I am so thrilled to welcome back our favourite young columnist here on HTWB, the one and only Jackson Rawlings who now writes for much posher publications including Huffington Post and Medium. Here, though, he gives us old goats some sharp, short advice on how not to write to and for millennials…take heed, those born before 1980! Sz x

lauren-peng-43963-unsplashI happened to catch the end of a TV soap the other day. I’m not someone who usually indulges in that kind of show, but on that occasion, my interest was piqued.

There were a couple of characters on screen who would be what I’d describe as millennials — probably in their mid-twenties — having a conversation with each other, which went something like this:

“Oh my god I can’t believe he said that, it’s like when “celebrity” did “celebrity thing” and I was like “what?”

“I know right? Hashtag fail”.

I’m paraphrasing from memory, but trust me, the actual scene was equally awful and stilted.

It got me thinking; firstly, how did that scene pass through multiple writers’ rooms and edits and still make it on to national TV.  And secondly, why do people think millennials must be pandered to in such an obvious, and superficial fashion?

Because that, I’m quite sure, was what was intended by that scene. The show’s target audience is somewhere in the 18–35 bracket.

But what was it in particular, apart from the generally poor quality of writing, that made this scene so offensive to my millennial sensibilities?

I decided to dig into my own pet hates when it comes to how millennials are targeted by writers: on screen, on the web and anywhere else.

It made me realise that there is a millennial-baiting template which rather than attract us, royally winds us up instead.

So, my advice, if your target audience includes the lesser-spotted-millennial, avoid all of these painfully forced tactics and tropes:

1/ The social media shoehorn

That was but one aspect of the above example. If your writing mentions Snapchat organically, as a way to add to the plot, to make your point or to improve a description… great.

If you think that by mentioning Instagram you’ll get loads of cool hip 25 year olds interested in what you’re doing, you are very much mistaken.

Funny article about writing for millennialsWe millennials have grown up with social media more than any other generation, but it’s not something we’re into for the sake of it. Something doesn’t suddenly appeal to me just because it has a hashtag in front of it.

It’s hackneyed, it’s tiresome, and in fact, it will often have the opposite effect of making us just tune out.

Remember when everything in pop culture was “groovy”? And how much that must have grated to those who had lived through the 60s? Yeah, it’s like that.

2/ The celebrity shout-out

Yes, we’re the first generation to witness the rise of being famous for being famous, but it doesn’t mean we’re all obsessed with celebs.

Like every generation, there will be some people who fan over the Biebers or the Swifts or the Love Islanders, but most of us are at most, indifferent.

If a celebrity does something cool, authentic, original? Great, I’m interested.

Attaching a celebrity name to something that is none of those things won’t magically make it such.

So next time you’re thinking about mentioning a Soundcloud rapper in your social media campaign, think, is this something that would be great without the celebrity nonsense attached? If not, bin it.

3/ Slinging the slang about

It may sound as if we under-35s all speak with rising inflections, and have conversations where “like” is every other word.

For many of us, that’s true.

But a writer, or a brand, or ANYONE WHO IS NOT A MILLENNIAL mirroring such speech patterns and trying to repeat our idiosyncrasies and language games, will come across like this:Article about writing for millenials

Don’t try and sound like a millennial if you’re not a millennial, got it?

4/ Memes missing the mark

The year is 2229. Humanity has long been extinct, having realised far too late that giving nuclear launch codes to a narcissistic maniac might have not been the best idea.

A spacecraft from the Zyon B galaxy on its regular solar flare mining mission to our sun passes the charred remnants of earth and decides to land and investigate.

As the alien being steps out into what used to be New York, he finds a pocket-sized device, screen cracked but somehow still functioning. He taps on the screen, and up pops:Writing to millennials

Even in extinction, the millennial will find a way to meme.

What is a meme? It’s a shared piece of culture, an inside joke with the world, and my generation cannot get enough of them. It has become a simple and effective way for us to communicate universal themes like angst, failure, love, loss and Rick Astley.

By nature, they’re kind of absurd, quirky, nonsensical.

And if you’re a business or a writer trying to exploit them, you’re going to have a bad time. This is a meme, for reference:Article about how not to write to millennials

Understand? No? Then don’t try to. Seriously. If you try and use meme culture in your writing, and you don’t understand it, be prepared for an all-mighty pisstaking from those who do.

Yes, we millennials love memes. But you know what we love more than memes? Writers and businesses who don’t use them badly or unnecessarily.

5/ We’re not superficial, we’re not snowflakes

We’re just like you. We’re people, with hopes and dreams and normal day-to-day lives.

It might sound absurd, but I think a lot of non-millennials view us as some strange, not-quite-human entity; that we operate in a totally different way.

Yes, we have our pet-causes, our hashtag activism, and we all try to be “woke”, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t tough, that we aren’t serious or ambitious.

How did you want to be communicated with when you were 25? Chances are we’d like to be talked to in the same way. Don’t pander, don’t separate, don’t condescend.

Treat us like people, like friends, like family, and you’ll find we’ll be more loyal to your brand or your words than you could possibly imagine.

Article about writing for millennials

Jackson Rawlings

Next week, Jackson shares his thoughts on what we should be writing for and about millennials. Don’t miss it!

Jackson Rawlings describes himself as a “marketing professional, business owner and politics enthusiast based in Brighton.”

He runs a successful content marketing agency, Beanbag Digital covering the south of England, and writes widely on politics, football (soccer!) and life in general.


Main photo above by Lauren Peng on Unsplash.





  1. Trudy Van Buskirk says

    Recently my niece and nephew both millennials), one of my brothers and his common law wife and I were in a car driving from Toronto to London, Ontario which is about a 2 hour trip.

    We had wonderful and thought provoking conversations about a wide variety of topics … and not once did either of them say “like”. They aren’t obsessed with celebrities either. Even though both of them had smartphones that they texted on, it was only when they weren’t participants in a conversation.

    They were both raised in London, Ontario and not a big city like Toronto. Could that be the reason? I prefer to think that they are both well rounded, aware and positive young people with great senses of of humour and a love of learning!

    Are they millennials? Yes … but not like the stereotype portrayed on TV!

  2. Thank Heavens for that, Trudy! They sound like really great young people.
    Don’t you just hate the way the media pick on the worst possible elements of almost anything and anybody these days? That’s the nastiest side of commercialism. Sz x

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