With a seasonal nod to the 2018 John Lewis ad

Going home a long a country road
This picture of my dog heading home along a country road can help you target your copy in the right way

Here’s a challenge for you.

Try and guess which one song got three 12-year-old girls and one 51-year-old woman belting it out together in joyful harmony?

Which artist managed to bridge our generational and cultural chasm?

Ed Sheeran seems obvious? Perhaps Little Mix? Or maybe something like Let It Go from Frozen?

All possible, but none right.

Much to my surprise and delight, the song that brought me, my daughter and two of her friends together was John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads.

I had no idea my daughter had even heard the song before, never mind that it was on her playlist and all the girls would know it so well they could sing along, word perfect (to the chorus anyway – the best bit after all) and in perfect time.

Why this will help you write better copy

My assumption that the girls would only know and like pop songs from the last ten years or so struck me as a perfect example of how easy it is to target your reader in completely the wrong way.

Too many marketers assume too much about people based on one, often meaningless measure. Like our age. Which is why you hear so much nonsense about millennials and generations X, Y and Z (what happened to generations A – W?).

Before John Denver started singing, I’d been firmly in ‘mum mode’. The girls and I were talking about the merits, or not, of their different teachers. And I was calming down some beef about who said what to who and why someone else was stirring it up. The usual 12-year-old girl stuff.

Sometimes all four of us would be chatting. This was lovely but always short-lived, as we were constantly interrupted when one or other of the songs my daughter was playing would cause one or two of the girls to stop and sing along for a while.

It was only when John Denver crooned about the way back home that we all became one.

The song broke down the barriers between us and brought us together in loud and imperfect harmony.

But if you’d asked me before which song would make this wonderful moment happen, that tune wouldn’t even have entered my head.

How to make sure your words hit home   

There are five things you can do to make sure you target your copy so your words resonate with the people you’re writing to:

  1. Ditch the meaningless labels

When you try and target people based on a label that someone else has applied to them, chances are you’ll miss the mark. If you want people to give up their time to read what you’ve written, you need to work harder than that.

For example, my niece is 26 and so some would label her as a millennial. Yet she also has a mortgage, a pension and a subscription to Yachting Monthly, none of which are commonly associated with people her age. Which means, to get her interested in what you have to say you need to…

  1. Do your research

To get to know what really makes your ideal reader tick, you need to know more than just their approximate date of birth.

You need to broaden your research to find out what the person you’re writing to likes and dislikes. What they’re frightened of and excited by. What their hopes and fears are. You need to understand them as a complex, interesting and emotional human being, just like you are.

  1. Write with emotion

Because we all have emotions. And when someone touches these emotions we respond. Which is why you can’t beat emotional copy.

Use your research to find out what’s most likely to stir the feelings of your ideal reader. Then pack your copy full of the emotion they won’t be able to resist.

  1. Use simple language

Simple language works for everyone. It’s easy to read and understand which means you can get straight to the heart of the matter. And straight to the heart of the person who’s reading your copy.

  1. Don’t try to be clever.

A single, clear message is best. Preferably one you can repeat. Like the chorus of a song.

Talking about emotion…

As a post script to this I’m going to shamelessly reference the new John Lewis ad.

There’s lots of chat about it at the moment of course. Some people love it, some hate it. I’m in the love camp.

But this director from a major British retailer isn’t.

He said, on LinkedIn:

How not to target your copy
How not to target your copy


Perhaps he was joking. But if he wasn’t, he’s missed two important points:

  1. John Lewis are probably more interested in the people with the most disposable cash, and most of them are older than 38
  2. Why does he assume that Elton John and a bit of festive schmaltz will put off people aged between 24 and 38?

My experience in the car with the girls shows that a catchy tune and a simple message can be enjoyed by everyone.

And, in a perfect endnote, as I left the bar I was in when I drafted this blog, I overheard a woman – who was definitely younger than me and probably younger than my niece – say, ‘The best John Lewis ad ever!’


Hello. I’m Sarah Russell, a freelance copywriter from near Cardiff in the UK.

I can give you words that will make your customers feel something.

Call me on: 01873 776 153

Email me at: info@sarahrussellwriting.co.uk

Connect with me on: LinkedIn

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you found something in it to help or inspire you, or to make you smile. Please feel free to share it.