Woke marketing is not gender neutral

By Tom Dougherty

Gender Neutral. Woke up. 

Woke marketing

The best marketing never feels like it’s marketing. It feels natural, direct, genuine. We polish the worst marketing with political correctness and ambiguous woke phrases. I am a branding expert and have spent a lifetime studying the persuasive arts. It is my job to find marketing and messaging problems.

Marketing departments try to act woke

woke marketingI am not challenging your desire to be sensitive to the issues of others. But are you willing to sacrifice effectiveness with woke sensibilities? Sensibilities that sound inauthentic and written by your legal department?

Trite-woke sensibilities have no place in marketing messages unless you are marketing something directly to that finite set of prospects who hold that political correctness as self-defining.

Gender-neutral pronouns. A prime example.

woke marketingIf you are marketing directly to non-binary prospects, stay clear of gender-neutral pronouns. In your corporate culture, I’m not arguing for ending inclusion (read an article on Wired). I’m just saying that in the current climate, gender-neutral pronouns sound pandering and inauthentic.

Woke marketing is your enemy. Saluting woke principles in your corporate culture is worthy and correct. It just needs to be cleansed from your brand and marketing messages.

You won’t believe this

I have a client in the female medical segment. You know, gynecological stuff. Things females need.

Woke marketingI laud the corporate culture. They have always (in my memory) embraced inclusion. They actively try to end discrimination in their corporate culture. They embrace LBGTQ hiring, and their HR meticulously sniffs out discriminatory practices and gender preferences.

But someone needs to draw the line with using gender-neutral terms for their gynecological products division. I can hardly believe I am even writing this. The inanity of removing female pronouns from medical devices and products in this category is insanity.

This is not kindness. It’s silliness—woke insanity.

woke marketingThe best friend of all marketing is sincerity. Authenticity and plain language go hand in hand with that sincerity. The moment we break that authentic trust by inserting language that draws attention to itself, we have broken the 4th wall.

We invite prospects to examine our messages and brand narrative for woke scrubbed cliches. Suddenly your brand is contrived and inauthentic.

Know your target audience

woke marketingOn the other hand, if this medical device company is marketing directly to far-left progressive thinking prospects— this is smart to do. Why? Because they see it as authentically representing their own beliefs.

But that is not their prospects and customers. Their market is ALL women and their gynecological providers. Not just those who hold woke ideas as sacrosanct.

The price of clarity is the risk of offense

See, I used the word WOKE for that very reason in this blog post. Some may find it offensive. Some may not.

woke marketingI believe in inclusion and believe our culture is full of discriminatory policies. We need to fix that.

But marketing is about selling. That’s why we do it. Sure, we design PR campaigns to exploit social changes and show leadership in inclusion.

Here is a list of gender-neutral pronouns that I copied from https://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns/

zie zim zir zis zieself
sie sie hir hirs hirself
ey em eir eirs eirself
ve ver vis vers verself
tey ter tem ters terself
e em eir eirs emself

Forgive me for my narrow view. But somehow, gynecological devices and products demand a gender modifier. I don’t mean it as a lack of respect. It’s about clarity and truth.

Left-handed Buddhists

Woke marketingI remember, years ago, an advertising creative director that I respected used to tease clients about advertising that was so inclusive it was for left-handed Buddhists. Was that an offensive remark or a great example of over-inclusion?

I am left-handed and am a practicing Buddhist, and I was not offended by his analogy. He was making a point.

But if I conversed with him and he prefaced his comment by addressing me as He/Him/Them I think I might have been offended.

Not because of the left-handed Buddhist comment, but for not giving me credit for taking it in the spirit it was intended. His self-consciousness would have raised my antennae (apologies to insects and Martians). My “insincere meter” would have gone wild. Like the rest of us, I count authenticity as a measure of importance. I may be woke, but I try to live my life truthfully.

 I value “woke” and beg forgiveness

woke marketingA few years ago, I hired UBER to take me to the airport. I was in Florida on business and was returning home. My driver was a gregarious guy. Charming.

I was almost at the drop-off point, and I said, rather routinely, “Thank you, sir.” As it slipped out of my mouth, I said, “Is it alright that I call you sir?”  He replied that her friends refer to her with a female pronoun.

“Well then. Thank you, mam, for the ride.” “You are welcome,” she replied.

English is not gender-neutral

When the new English lexicon is written, and all gender references are removed, I will happily change the pronoun to theirs instead of his or hers.


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