Youthquake. No, that isn’t a typo and this is not a piece about a tragic natural disaster. “Youthquake” – believe it or not – is Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year for 2017. The word, defined as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people” defeated stiff competition from the likes of “broflake” and “Milkshake Duck” – no, I did not make those up – to claim the prize.
The red squiggly lines popping up as I type this should be enough to tell anyone that that this is just plain wrong. I’m no wordy prude, but I do think things have gone too far.
What’s wrong with calling something a youth-led movement? It was fine for Obama in 2008 and for the Arab Spring. What happened in 2017 to make “youthquake” a necessity? Brexit? The inauguration of Trump? Surely not. Or – more optimistically – perhaps it was the Women’s March or Me Too?
Whatever the reason, the attraction is clear: less is usually more. Using the smallest number of words possible to get your point across makes for succinct writing. But when did it become ok to indiscriminately squish two unrelated words into one? Is it the result of a limited character count? Or pop culture’s urge to contract everything into digestible buzzwords? Is this all Brangelina’s fault?
Even more worrying than the word itself is the prospect of brands trying to use it – or the sentiment behind it – to seem cool. I can already hear the bassline of Tinie Tempah’s anthem Earthquake pounding in the distance. It’s a great track, but in the wrong hands… One shudders at the thought.
There is a wave of brands moving away from creative branded content towards purpose-driven messaging – which is fine, if those values are intrinsic to your brand.
Patagonia were applauded for their recent campaign condemning the reduction of state park land in the USA. The move made sense for a company that donates 1% of sales to grassroots environmental organisations.
Giants like Unilever have restructured their business around purpose with staggering results. In 2016, so-called “sustainable living” brands like Dove and Persil delivered 60% of Unilever’s growth, helped by campaigns like Dirt is Good and Dove Real Beauty.
For purpose-driven messaging to work for your brand, you have to have some skin in the game. Pepsi’s recent attempt to bring people together resulted in a massive backlash. The ad – featuring reality star Kendall Jenner – appeared to mirror an iconic image (protestor Ieshia Evans standing firm in the face of police officers in full riot gear) from the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Pepsi had made the mistake of positioning their product as the solution to racial tension in America while taking no positive action to address the issue.
Unless you are going to poke fun at this “youthquake” nonsense, my advice is to stay well away. Manufactured purpose is not your gateway to Millennial or Gen Z audiences. Their BS filter is finely honed. If you are going to make light of it, tread carefully. Only the most self-aware brands could get away with it – think along the lines of Tide’s 2018 Super Bowl ad. Or Old Spice’s Cinema ad featuring Broncos linebacker Von Miller.
All audiences value integrity. That doesn’t mean all brands have to become earnest and boring. Do what your mam told you on your first day of school: Be yourself. Not everyone will like you, but the ones that do… They could be friends – or customers – for life.
Amy Sergison is a Copywriter at McCann Dublin.