Recently we had a client that was convinced we needed to dumb down our content writing because their target audience is 13-18 year olds. To them, this meant adding a lot of exclamation points, trailing ellipses, and emphasizing certain words or phrases in bold and CAPS.
But what the client doesn’t realize is that taking a work of art (as we’d like to think, meaning our writing that we produce for clients) and turning it into an over-processed, over-punctuated mess is not going to drive more 13-18 year olds to their website and products. Of course we get the discrepancy between writing for adults and writing for a 13 year old. But, it’s important to remember that the average pre-teen can read sentences just as easily as an adult, in most cases. And attempting to send a message to a certain demographic by catering to their lifestyle or culture, when you aren’t in that demographic, can go horribly wrong.
Age isn’t the only demographic where businesses think they are catering to their audience when they are actually insulting them. Other demographic targets seem to be gender, race, and citizens of certain areas. For instance, McDonald’s recently had a commercial that seems to advertising to African American customers. Everyone in the commercial was black, the voiceover was black, and the music was rap. Doesn’t that come off as offensive? Many people thought so.
Another example where trying to appeal to certain demographics and it goes horribly wrong is when Ragu launched a “When Dad Cooks Dinner” campaign. Mothers are shown lamenting on how awful it is when Dad has to cook for the family by himself:
This is painful to watch. Fathers are not bad cooks! Just like how not all women are bad at changing a flat tire or using table saws. Playing to stereotypes to get a laugh and making people feel connected to a brand is a fine line, one that usually gets crossed in all the wrong ways.
Bottom line— don’t rely on stereotypes or imagined demographic culture to advertise a product or service. Most of the time, it’s not going to go well, especially if you are taking it online or nationwide.
If you do do this online, prepared for the backlash, usually in angry blog posts, social media rants, and a drop in website traffic or sales.