My friend Vikki Ross recently tweeted this copywriting job:
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.
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.
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.
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.