Be edgy or die.
Yoga instructors often talk about "working your edge." The phrase usually comes at that point in the class when the pleasure of opening ohms is well behind you, and the relaxing reward of savasana is still a long way off. It's time to stretch out and take risks, to test your limits and see how far you can really go. It might be uncomfortable and a little bit scary, but it's the only way you're going to make progress.
Same with your brand copy. Everyone thinks being "edgy" is about being cool and modern, but it's more than that. It's about showing your people that you understand them better than other brands, that you aren't afraid to grow with them and that you're figuring it out just like they are. There comes a point in your relationship with your audience where you can no longer afford to be safe. You must take a risk, or lose your clout altogether. Here are a few ways you can do that...
Sorry to your grandma, but nice manners are out of style. Subtlety is over. Everyone's sharing everything and it's all out there to see, so the only way you're going to get your message across is to come right out and say it. "Here are a few new items we thought you might like?" No, try "You need this now."
Millennials can see right through your marketing schemes, and they've taught every other demographic how to be cynical as hell. So, the best way to think about this is, they have a problem, you have a product. Tell them how those two things can cancel each other out, and everyone wins.
It's not appropriate for every brand to push the boundaries of offensiveness, but being negative and making fun of old-people earnestness can be very charming. "If you or someone you know is getting married," read a recent email from Reformation, "we can help." The copy offers to solve your wardrobe concerns while mocking the tired, happily-ever-after cliché of the traditional bridal campaign. Weddings are work. Why pretend otherwise when your customer just really needs something to wear?
Some of the coolest fashion brands are telling you exactly how they make their clothes, and how they arrived at their prices (see: Reformation, Everlane). But you don't have to throw open your factory doors and walk the world through your Wonka-like inner workings to benefit from this tactic. Transparency, and the brand loyalty it creates, can be achieved with simple copy decisions. An elegant example is the way Lululemon calls its sale section "we made too much."
Prudishness will get you nowhere in 2015. Even if your brand is totally mainstream, you're going to enthrall more customers than you offend with references to sex. Double cool points if you can make us lol.
When it comes to modern copy, there is absolutely nothing worse than coming off corny. So please, if you are trying to reach the young folks and you have no one on your team who knows what's up, for god sakes, hire someone who does (oh hi), and put your trust in that person or agency. They are intimately acquainted with your audience's problems and passions in ways that your brand desperately needs to be. And if you let them help you take calculated risks with your messaging, you'll see your brand-love grow in ways you'd never imagined.