Words matter. They have the power to unite or divide. Language is not only how cultures understand each other but also how they are perceived.
When creating brand marketing campaigns, companies place special attention towards finding the right words that compel end users to buy their product. This is no easy task, and some fail by inadvertently excluding part of the audience they intend to attract.
One example is Heineken’s 30-second ad from March 2022. It showed a bartender sliding a beer past three people, all of whom were black, to a lighter-skinned woman. The tag line read “Sometimes, lighter is better”. Social media immediately fired back with angry comments that called the commercial “terribly racist”. Heineken recognized their mistake and pulled the ad.
To avoid these types of issues, companies should be aware of bias and avoid offensive and insensitive language.
What is Bias?
Bias is defined as prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group when compared with another, usually in a way that’s considered unfair. At times, it’s explicit. Other times, bias can be so ingrained in our everyday expressions that we may not be aware of it. For instance, we use the term “master bedroom” without realizing its origins, or the expression “so easy even my grandma can do it” without thinking that it can be offensive to someone of advanced age.
Here are some tips to reduce the likelihood of bias in your marketing copy:
1. Avoid Generalizations
Instead of, “People in Los Angeles love the Lakers basketball team.”
Say, “A great number of people who live in Los Angeles are Lakers fans.”
Not all people in Los Angeles may love basketball. Some may favor other basketball teams.
2. Be Objective
Objective writing tends to be fact-driven instead of opinionated and prejudiced.
Instead of, “As is always the case, company ABC keeps disappointing its clients.”
Say, “According to some of its clients, company ABC didn’t do what was promised to them, and they felt disappointed.”
Avoid using words such as ‘really’, ‘always’, ‘never’, and ‘very’, as these can sound false and weaken a statement.
3. Use Language Sensitively
Pay attention to your language choices when writing about disability, identity, age, gender, racial or ethnic groups, or socio-economic terms.
Instead of, “Educated adults scored higher on the test than those with no education.”
Say, “Adults with a 4-year college degree scored higher on the test than adults with a high-school level education.”
Be specific and ensure you have proper, informed data.
What is Inclusive Language?
Published by the Linguistic Society of America, the Guidelines for Inclusive Language define it as language that “acknowledges diversity, conveys respect for all people, is sensitive to differences, and promotes equal opportunities.”
Inclusive language is “person-centered”. It places the person first and the disability second. Instead of using the term “addict”, an inclusive choice would be “someone struggling with addiction”. Instead of “wheelchair-bound”, a better term would be “person who uses a wheelchair”. It also removes specific gendered words and replaces them with more neutral terms, such as “mail carrier” instead of “mailman”, or “flight attendant” instead of “stewardess”.
Targem Helps Companies Create Bias Free Content
Targem can help reduce implicit bias from your content before it goes out to translation with the help of native qualified DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) editors and translators.
Keep in mind that it is easier to produce inclusivity in some languages than in others. Gender neutrality is not possible in all languages. In languages like English, Japanese, Chinese, Finnish, and others, nouns are non-gendered (the table, the car, etc.). Languages like Spanish, French, Portuguese, Arabic, and Hebrew are difficult to neutralize, as these use gendered pronouns and nouns. In Spanish, a table is feminine (“la” mesa), while a car is masculine (“el” auto). Attempting to neutralize them during the translation process may produce confusing or even incomprehensible sentences.
In addition, some countries don’t consider it offensive to call an “addict” or a “diabetic” person as such. The educational system in France has recently mandated that neutral, inclusive language will not be allowed in schools so that the French language can remain as is. However, other countries are in full support of inclusive terminology.
It takes a specific skillset of cultural awareness coupled with a keen linguistic educational background to spot possible bias and non-inclusive language. Furthermore, each country has their own laws, mandates, and preferences. Targem DEI experts are ready to provide professional advice for each of the markets your company intends to reach. Contact us today to get started.
Silvia Carvalho, Head of Localization at Targem Translations