Advertising copywriting, Freelance life, Marketing Copywriting

Young, gifted and male. Say what?!

My friend Vikki Ross recently tweeted this copywriting job:

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 11.31.10

First of all, as Vikki herself said in the conversation on Twitter that followed, she wasn’t recruiting or even endorsing the client’s requirements.

But it’s an interesting topic, isn’t it.

Why specify a gender?

Why specify an age range?

Without knowing anything about the client, brand, product or brief, I am going to make three assumptions.

3 assumptions

1 It’s not for stairlifts.

2 Or for a new female travel-urination solution to rival the epically named She-wee.

3 The client is labouring under a delusion that selling products aimed at all the young dudes (you can see why I didn’t bother applying) requires one of them to write its copy.

The question is, are they right?

Shape-shifting a speciality

I have written, variously, for

Psychologies magazine, which is aimed at and read by women of a more introspective cast of mind.

BBC Good Food, a magazine for suburban housewives (the editor’s words, not mine).

Dirt, a magazine for mainly young male mountain-bikers.

… and a bunch of other products and services whose target customers were a different gender, age, outlook, religion and marital status to me.

None of which mattered to the clients. They hired me because of my abilities to empathise and sell to, not to embody, the target market.

Maybe you have, too. No? You’re a 29-year-old woman who only works on feminine hygiene products, wedding dresses and lippy? Oh, my bad.

So, what’s going on? Why is the client being so short-sighted? After all, at a stroke, they have managed to exclude from what our colleagues in HR call the ‘talent pool’ considerably more than half of all copywriters by gender and rather more than that by age.

You want a what because of what?

Let’s take the two separate discriminatory factors one at a time.

First, gender.

What could a male copywriter do that a female one couldn’t? Here’s a short and non-exhaustive list:

Write first-hand about penis-ownership.

Describe what a manual prostate exam feels like on the inside.

Struggling here.

Maybe the client hopes that a male copywriter will be able to talk to the boys in their own language.

But that requires not merely knowledge of the Millennial male argot but an ability to reproduce it convincingly in writing. Not the same thing at all.

Perhaps they believe the male copywriter will be familiar with the particular pain or anxiety that product X (or should that be XY?) promises to make vanish.

Unless it’s a universal problem for the male gender, then it’s not guaranteed.

It’s wasted on the young, you know

How about youth?

Early 20s. Not mid- or late-twenties, or even 20s. Early 20s. That is SO specific.

So, a guy born between, let’s say 1992 and 1995.

If he went straight from school to university, and did a three-year degree, and walked straight into a copywriting job, that gives him a maximum of two years’ experience. Which could be fine. He could have spent the entire time writing about stag weekends in Vilnius, scruffing lotion and apps that help you talk to grown up women.

But being young is different being middle-aged or old. For a start, you’re more in touch with what young people are like. Well, the ones who are like you, I mean. Remember William Hague as a teenager? I don’t think he was in touch with anyone under 40 even then.

What else? More energy. OK, that’s true. When I’m up at six am every day writing, I do feel a bit tired.

Is there a legal position we can look at on all this? Is it sexual discrimination? Or age discrimination? Officially, I mean? Probably not.

It’s a freelance position being publicised informally through social media, so I doubt there’s an employment lawyer in the country who’d even give you a free six-minute consultation.


Did we bring this on ourselves?

Does the client’s cockamamie thinking reflect anything going on around them? Have they formed the impression that female, or older, copywriters might not be able to master the brief? If so, why?

Did they tire of cupcake references on websites? Of cutesy tone of voice references to popping round for a chat and a cuppa? Of self-deprecation taken to Olympian levels?

Maybe not. Maybe they’re just plain short-sighted. Or ignorant about the way a true copywriter – of whatever gender – plies their trade.

The research, the interviews, the imagining life from another’s perspective.

The empathising, the trying on different hats and shoes.

The reading. The writing. The deleting. The asking colleagues for help with jargon, slang or leetspeak.

That could be it.

What do you think? Please leave a comment. I’m off to order some prostate pills.

6 Comment(s)

  1. Nick Green

    I’m one of the gobby Twitter berks Vikki had to placate (although I did make clear I wasn’t having a pop at her).

    It’s a tricky one. The part of me that’s miffed at the (apparently) narrow-mindedness of the client is countered by the part that assumes they must have good reasons to be so specific.

    In theory, there’s no reason why a 50-year-old woman couldn’t do the job just as well as a 25-year-old man. Subject matter can be reasearched by anyone. Writing about it can be done by anyone. We know that but do they?

    It’s my guess the client thought ‘horses for courses’. If they’re after laddish copy (presumably?), it makes perfect sense to get a lad to write it. Why would you want a Jill of all trades when you can have a Jack of one? There’s no guarantee they’ll get what they want, of course, but you can’t blame them for trying to cut the odds.

    Is that discrimination? Ignorance? Laziness? Probably a bit of all three.

    13th May 2015 at 1:06 pm | Reply
  2. Kady Potter

    I do think sometimes a little sensitivity to the subject is needed. I remember working alongside a very new male writer on work experience. He was given a brief on bikini waxing. I’ve never seen anyone turn quite that crimson before.

    That said, I was more miffed at not qualifying as ‘early 20s’ than I was at being ruled out as not male. And that’s at 27. Can’t even imagine how those much wiser and… more experienced… than I must’ve felt.

    13th May 2015 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  3. Kevin

    I was called in by an agency (who shall remain inconsequential) to work on Mercedes Benz. They wanted to give their client a younger tone of voice, away from perceptions of driving gloves and golf clubs. Checking out my blog, poring over the portfolio and reading my emails convinced them that I might be the right person for the job. But as soon as I turned up for a meeting and they saw that I was north of 50, they were like “Do you remember where the door is?”

    14th May 2015 at 12:08 pm | Reply
  4. Thomas Ridge

    Being a good copywriter is like being a character actor – you should be able to find the right voice to fit the brief. Any client narrowing their contract criteria from the outset is being amazingly short-sighted and presumptious. I hope they get the copy they deserve.

    Thomas Ridge

    14th May 2015 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  5. Gary Lewis

    I’ve enjoyed writing for fun, most of my life. In the last two years I have started from scratch, working as s freelance copywriter after leaving the education sector. My work has come mostly from people I have met or chased, around my age (40+), who I think value and share the importance of life experience. Not one agency has responded to my applications to get on their books. I would like ‘bigger’, more work (still early days) and I do muse whether it’s an age thing? Maybe those in charge haven’t quite caught on to the fact that we’ll all be working forward loooong time, and that youth is fleeting. Saying that, who knows? Maybe Andy does…

    14th May 2015 at 2:02 pm | Reply
  6. Phil Welch

    I write recruitment ads for teenagers, students, graduates and even people who are older than 25. What’s more, I’m in my 50s and have been doing this kind of work since I was in my early 20s (just).

    The agencies I’ve worked for have never had a problem with the fact that I’ve often been writing for an audience that I clearly wasn’t a member of. Some of the clients, on the other hand, have raised their eyebrows when they first met me. But, luckily, the agency’s confidence in my talents has usually been enough to convince them. And I like to think that my subsequent work has done the same.

    So, yes, this is discriminatory. Not just because I don’t seem to qualify on age grounds. But also because, in the UK, there’s a law against it. Even if you’re only advertising on a social network, you can’t specify you want to recruit someone of a particular age or gender. You can’t even specify a number of years’ experience, as this could be seen as discriminating against younger people. If you do, you’re liable to be sued under the Equality Act 2010, unless you can come up with a viable argument for exemption. And I doubt that copywriting would qualify for that.

    14th May 2015 at 2:19 pm | Reply

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