What is inclusive language?
Inclusive language refers to using language that acknowledges, respects, and values experiences and identities. Inclusive language is the easiest way to make your copy more, well, inclusive. It ensures all potential readers will feel seen, heard, and respected by your writing.
What’s the difference between inclusive language and politically correct language?
Politically correct language focuses on not offending, such as ensuring you’re not using outdated terms that are now deemed offensive. Inclusive language is about honouring people’s identities, such as using gender neutral terms where possible. There is a distinct overlap between the two regarding things you should not say, but inclusive language is not designed to avoid offence, but rather to provide belonging.
How can I make brand language more inclusive?
Many brands struggle with making sure their copy is truly inclusive for all audiences. Fortunately, there are a few simple steps you can take to make sure your brand’s message resonates with everyone who reads it. Here are our top tips for creating more inclusive copy that appeals to diverse audiences.
1. Don’t make assumptions.
One of the easiest ways to alienate readers is by making assumptions about their gender, sexuality, race, or any other demographic factor. The word “they” will be your best friend to avoid using pronouns and labels where possible, and “spouse” or “partner” are great substitutes for husband/wife/girlfriend/boyfriend. Also avoid all-encompassing statements such as “All elderly people love XYZ” as it can be alienating to be told you don’t fit into groups you do identify with.
2. Prioritise people.
Think about how you’re phrasing your descriptions of people. People-first language—also known as person-first language—avoids using labels or adjectives to define someone. It prioritises the person before the trait. For example, “a person with diabetes” instead of “a diabetic” or “if you use a wheelchair” instead of “wheelchair user.”
3. Go gender neutral.
Avoid using gendered language where it’s not necessary. Instead of addressing a group as “guys,” use inclusive words like “everyone,” “team,” or even “y’all.” Use words that encompass all genders instead of just two, such as “children” instead of “boys and girls” or “siblings” instead of “brothers and sisters.”
4. Include diverse perspectives.
Having a team that is representative of different cultures, backgrounds, and identities helps ensure that your brand messaging and marketing campaigns are diverse, culturally sensitive, and inclusive. When you have team members who can offer insights and feedback from different lived experiences, you are less likely to unintentionally perpetuate harmful stereotypes or offend unintentionally.
5. Avoid tokenization.
Tokenism is when certain people or groups are included in marketing efforts solely for the purpose of appearing diverse or politically correct. Tokenism can reduce people to mere symbols or props, rather than respecting their unique experiences and contributions. For instance, a clothing brand featuring size 18 models in their ads but not offering sizes beyond 12 in their stores. Go beyond surface-level representation and genuinely support and listen to those in underrepresented groups.
6. Stay on top of linguistic sensitivities.
Language is ever-evolving. It is incredibly important to be mindful and respectful of the diverse linguistic nuances, cultural references, and sensitivities of various communities. Avoid using derogatory or offensive language, harmful stereotypes, and outdated terms. Even if you’re trying to be edgy. Be aware that ableist, ageist, or racist language that may have been “acceptable” in the past can now result in serious offence and consequences, including brand cancellation. Stay informed on changing language trends and sensitivities.
7. Consider cultural sensitivities.
If you’re marketing to a global audience, be aware of cultural sensitivities to ensure your language and imagery are appropriate for the locations you’re trying to reach. Be mindful of local norms and customs, and avoid using language or imagery that could be offensive or insensitive. Take Airbnb’s 2016 “Floating World” campaign in Japan, launched to promote the country’s traditional culture. The term “Floating World” had historical associations with the red-light district of the Edo period, which was perceived as culturally insensitive. The campaign received backlash, leading to its withdrawal and an apology from Airbnb.
8. Do your research.
It’s tempting to respond rapidly to moments in culture. Before jumping in on trends or movements, make sure you’re informed enough to do so. Don’t be like Pepsi, who, in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, created a tone deaf ad in which Kendall Jenner used Pepsi to create peace between police and protesters. Or DiGorno Pizza, who saw the twitter hashtag #WhyIStayed trending, and didn’t look into the context of it before tweeting #WhyIStayed You had pizza. before realising it was a tag for people sharing their stories of domestic abuse. Be aware and do your research to avoid missteps.
What are the benefits of using inclusive language?
Making your copy more inclusive is an important step towards creating a more equitable and representative marketing strategy. By following these tips, you can ensure that your copy resonates with a diverse range of individuals and helps build a stronger connection with your audience.
Luckily, our branding experts are language nerds and know just what to say and how to say it. Let’s chat about making your branding more inclusive.