What Trump means for brand language

Trump at salon

I don’t believe brands should talk about politics. But I think brand owners need to talk about Donald Trump.

For the last few months, the United States has looked like a family trapped in a car being driven fast at a tree. Now they’ve hit the tree.

Discontent with the President-elect peaked around his sexist language and we suspect that from now on, there will be a great divide between consumers who think it’s acceptable and those who think it’s not.

From now on, brands (and hopefully everyone else in the world) will be under greater scrutiny for using sexist language and behaviour.

And about time. How odd it looks when the BBC’s Newsnight is hosted by a female presenter with only female guests. But for years, the BBC has been cheerfully providing only male guests to talk to a male presenter.

Is it acceptable for a radio station to air misogynistic lyrics? No. Is it acceptable for advertisers to continue sponsoring those stations? No.

We believe that there should be a backlash.

Even amongst the biggest advertisers, stereotypes are still being enforced via language. Compare these two Head and Shoulders ads:


For women, it’s about being flake free and gorgeous. For men, it’s about shouldering responsibility.

In the new 60” trailer for ITV’s hub, you’ll see plenty of women: whisking eggs, folding the clothes, or opening the fridge. Meanwhile, a man is in a shed, putting nails in a jar.
In Sky’s TV commercial, a guy tapes over his girlfriend’s programme. Hmmm. But it turns out that it’s only guys who can update the tech and install the new cable supply, while the girlfriend’s language portrays her as shrill and hectoring.
So what can brand owners do? (Other than call us to conduct an audit.)

One of the first things to recognise is that there are some easy assumptions to make about ‘feminine’ vs ‘masculine’ styles of language. And they’re wrong.

If you’d like a more detailed discussion, we can’t do better then to point you to this excellent blog:

Debbie Cameron on sexist language

The simplest way to audit your own brand is to do this: imagine all your communications with Donald Trump standing in for the male actor, or him reading your brand copy aloud to a woman. If it seems as if Donald could fill the role, then maybe you’ve got a problem.

As proof, imagine this recent TV commercial for Subway, with Donald Trump playing the guy.

If you would like to talk more about what does or doesn’t lead your brand’s tone of voice to be thought of as being particularly masculine or feminine, we’d love to chat.

Please email me, Chris.


*photograph by Alison Jackson for Vanity Fair, 2016