Kind language: a practical guide to avoid discriminating with words
Is inclusive language in digital marketing a resource that can benefit the companies that use it, or is it only linked to a politically correct approach to reality? We explored the topic in a cycle of three meetings, drawing some useful reflections on how to approach this extensive and complex subject.
Despite the fact that debates raised in recent months in the mainstream media are largely focused on nomina agentis (how to define female occupations), the reality is much more complex and interesting. Starting with the struggles of the LGBT+ community and leading to the Black Lives Matter movement, the culture of Diversity & Inclusion has triggered a change in corporate HR approaches, which are then reflected in Marketing strategies.
We therefore tried to understand what kind of repercussions a ‘kind language’ can have in building a communication campaign.
Inclusive language: don't be a bull in an ‘asterisk’ shop
The initial meeting focused on understanding what is meant by ‘inclusive language’, which, in addition to gender discrimination, includes language about ethnicity and disability. The use of correct language is certainly a challenge that finds many people unprepared because, in reality, mistakes are very easily made. Italian is a language geared towards gender distinctions (the preponderant use of the generic masculine) and solutions may raise criticism or difficulties. However, various solutions can be found: replace the generic masculine with letters or symbols (asterisks, ‘at’ signs or schwas), use passive forms or collective terms (e.g. people, teaching staff, etc.).
Inclusive language also means language concerning ethnicity and disabilities. In order to combat racism, for example, expressions such as ‘coloured’ were invented to define black people, creating more discrimination than before. Hence, the right approach would be to ask the people we are addressing what they prefer to be called.
The same situation applies to terms such as ‘handicapped’, ‘differently abled’ and ‘disabled’, which are considered discriminatory as they define a person only by his or her disability. Inclusive language therefore prefers the term ‘person with a disability’. This expression tends to refer to an individual with many abilities in addition to his/her disability.
Inclusive marketing: representing people in the real world
The use of inclusive language should be included in a broader marketing vision, more specifically, in what is called Inclusive Marketing. But what does this mean?
According to the definition by Hubspot, doing inclusive marketing means developing “campaigns that embrace diversity by including people from different backgrounds or stories they can relate to. While some inclusive campaigns make an effort to break stereotypes, others simply aim to represent people in the real world.”
Advertising based on these principles brings significant benefits to brands by increasing consumer trust and loyalty and improving the perception of that company in society. However, it must be remembered that diversity goes beyond gender or skin colour. It’s also about age, geography, socio-economic and occupational differences, skills and sexuality.
Three main guidelines need to be followed in order to develop an inclusive approach: * Building communication based on authentic and non-stereotypical representation of reality. In other words, we should bear in mind that society is made up of people who differ from each other, and make their different points of view known.
- Telling true stories that target groups can identify with means breaking stereotypes. Fathers who cook a meal for their offspring because their mother ventured to leave them on their own for dinner should not be considered heroes.
- Consider the accessibility of ads, platforms and content.
Stereotipi e pregiudizi
Durante l’ultimo incontro abbiamo affrontato il tema degli stereotipi e dei pregiudizi che sono alla base dei linguaggi non inclusivi e che spesso sono veicolati nelle campagne di comunicazione.
Lo stereotipo, nei linguaggi verbali e visivi, non è di per sé negativo ed è un meccanismo funzionale alla comunicazione che può semplificare la comprensione e l’efficacia del messaggio. La ricaduta negativa - sopratutto per chi si occupa di sociale - è legata al fatto che esso funziona attraverso la ripetizione nel tempo e veicola dei giudizi sulla realtà o su un gruppo di persone che presentano medesimi tratti (fisici o comportamentali).
Strettamente legato allo stereotipo è il pregiudizio che potremmo definire come “tendenza a considerare in modo sfavorevole le persone che appartengono a un determinato gruppo sociale”. In altre parole se lo stereotipo rappresenta il nucleo cognitivo, il pregiudizio è il comportamento innescato da quella credenza.
Stereotypes and prejudices
At the last meeting, we addressed the issue of stereotypes and prejudices that underlie non-inclusive language and are often conveyed in communication campaigns.
In verbal and visual language, stereotyping is not in itself negative. It’s a functional means of communicating that can simplify the understanding and effectiveness of a message. The negative impact - especially for those involved in the social field - is related to the fact that it works through repetition over time and conveys judgements about reality or a group of people with the same (physical or behavioural) characteristics.
Closely related to stereotyping is prejudice, which we might define as the “tendency to regard people who belong to a particular social group unfavourably”. In other words, if the stereotype represents the cognitive core, prejudice is the behaviour triggered by that belief.
Stereotypes and prejudices are social constructions that don’t represent reality but which, regarded as beliefs, help to sustain power differences between groups (this happens in gender with female subordination and male dominance) and produce effects on recipients (self-fulfilling prophecies).
Gender stereotypes and their representation therefore lead to the following outcomes:
- They help to biologise gender differences
- They emphasise male-female differences
- They minimise cross-gender differences
- They reject the legitimacy of identity constructs proposed as alternatives (e.g. homosexual, transgender identities)
- They help maintain the status quo
The role of the media, crucial in undermining this mechanism, is based on the changing traditional images of gender roles, rejecting the representation of a specific image of a female body and the hypersexualisation of young girls.
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