‘Solve and remove’ VS ‘hide and cover-up’ – Are the words we use in marketing causing gender bias?

We all know words are important. They have power and, when deployed effectively by marketers, they can create a significant impact and elevate a campaign to a higher plane. The flip side of this is that picking the wrong words can have a harmful effect on what we are trying to achieve.

This means we must be fully in control of our words - and we must be precise and deliberate in selecting the vocabulary that powers our campaigns.

Mastering the significance of the language we use is crucial for connecting with a target audience. There is a fine line for this art, lazily adopting linguistic patterns according to stereotypes will inhibit the delivery of our intended message - and turn people off.

For example, in marketing toys to boys, brands often choose words associated with adventure or conflict. However, in an attempt to target girls in the same age bracket, brands will lean towards vocabulary that has connotations of beauty, fantasy or love.

This type of stereotyping can send a damaging message to children and restrict them from developing in their own individual manner - and many parents will see right through it.

Another example is certain shampoo ads: those targeted at men talk about confidence, strength and dominance, and use assertive verbs such as 'solve', 'remove' and 'prevent'. Meanwhile, those aimed at women are passive - urging women to 'hide' or 'cover up' dandruff and grey hairs.

While these linguistic patterns may feel like natural fits for a marketer, they can be detrimental to a campaign and have impacts on a wider societal scale. People today are very sensitive to lazy stereotypes so marketers could unknowingly alienate a large section of a potential audience.

This means we must attempt to neutralise our language to consider the characteristics of the individuals we are targeting – and this can be very tricky and complicated for marketers.


"We must attempt to neutralise our language to consider the characteristics of the individuals we are targeting"


However, help is at hand. Developments in machine learning have made it possible for Artificially Intelligent (AI) machines to read content in the same way as a human does, with all the nuances of the language taken into account. Cognitive semantic technology tools such as Natural Language Processing (NLP) allow marketers to uncover the true meaning of their words in context, and the sentiments they express.

This allows marketers to leverage contextual targeting. This means that with a precise analysis of a web site’s language, concepts and sentiments, marketers can place their ads beside content that complements and enhances their intended message.

It also allows for greater brand safety. This in-depth targeting can make sure that ads appear beside content that reflects well on the brand and avoids any content that might be detrimental.

By taking control of the words we use, and acknowledging the problems with existing methods, marketers can stride forward into a new, more language-precise era for digital marketing.