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Why brands should incorporate genderless language

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Written by publishing team

Gender-neutral language is here to stay. From Health-Ade Kombucha to Harry Styles’ gender-neutral vegan beauty brand, Pleasing, companies in the natural products space are using language and packaging that are inherently more inclusive.

“Larly thanks to Gen Z, young people don’t define themselves in terms of rules or fixed versions of identities,” says Gina Smith, president and CEO of Smith Design, a brand design agency that works with natural products companies. “Gender orientation and professional interests give way to new waves of thinking that are not static in nature. References are more comprehensive and universal.”

In the past, health products in food and drink categories were frequently marketed around building muscle for men or losing weight for women. This is an antiquated way of thinking by today’s standards, Smith says. Many products are marketed globally by speaking to the whole person in a more positive and inclusive way.

Jenna_Smith_CEO_Smith_Design_.png“It’s more autobiographical about things versus sex,” says Smith (left). “Talk about things from a health perspective, not a gender one, because the concept of gender keeps changing. Maybe shampoo is just a shampoo and it doesn’t have to be a men’s shampoo.”

However, the CPG industry has been slow to follow suit.

“It’s hard for a brand to crack what it knows,” Smith says. “And what is the proven revenue from some demographics.”

Companies need to do their own market research to make sure they embrace the concept of gender fluidity in ways that seem “gender smart,” Smith says.

“Brands should speak up and take a walk,” Smith says. “Unlike just doing it because it seems like the thing to do in this day and age.”

Gender-free language promotes a welcoming culture

While gender-based stereotypes still exist in the United States, 56% of Americans believe removing gender norms and stereotypes is good for society, according to research by Mintel. A growing number of adults in the United States say they personally know a transgender person and people use a gender-neutral pronoun such as “they” rather than “he” or “she,” according to Pew Research. Even the United Nations provides guidelines for the use of gender-inclusive language.

May Habib, co-founder and CEO of Writer, an AI writing assistant for teams to help everyone in the company write using the same style, technology, and voice.

Some companies have already rebranded to be more unisex. For example, ThinkThin has been renamed Think! After working with DDW, a brand and marketing agency. Protein bars now display fewer messages about dieting and focus more on “healthy lifestyles with naturally nourishing products that are clean and delicious.” Another example is the Raw Bar that has used pastel colors to rebrand its 100% raw, organic, gluten-free vegan bars that come in the protein, fruit, and hemp varieties.

Mary_Habib.pngHabib says most of her clients work in technology. “Where technology leads, everyone follows,” says Habib (right). “I think CPG companies would be wise to follow what technology is doing in terms of anti-sexist and anti-racist language to make sure their packaging reflects the time.”

The use of non-binary pronouns combats inherently sexual language

Words matter. It is important to be as comprehensive as possible. When it comes to packaging, think about how natural products are geared towards moms, Habib said.

“More and more people are defending the word caregiver, or the word parent, as a more gender-neutral, non-binary way of referring to someone who takes care of a child or takes care of the needs of the home,” Habib says.

Avoid referring to the audience in a gendered way with gender pronouns, she says, by greeting everyone or saying “you’re welcome” instead of “ladies and gentlemen.”

Habib says the language of family members is shifting toward saying partner rather than husband or wife and child versus son or daughter. Use LatinX instead of Latino or Latina.

When it comes to business roles, use gender-neutral language such as servers versus waiters and waitresses or mail carriers versus postmen and actors versus actresses. Be aware of the language of sexuality rooted in many cultures such as saying the human race versus saying the human race or people to make it gender-neutral.

“Gender and racial descriptors are a legacy of the way gender works in many languages, but we don’t have to be very binary,” Habib says. “By using more inclusive language, it suggests that we see a variety of identity and try to signal that we are a welcome community, company, and open community.”

What CPG brands are actually using genderless language?

There has been a marked increase in the number of clean beauty lines using non-gender language to increase the inclusiveness of their products.

natural beauty products

NOTO Botanics, a Los Angeles-based skincare brand that has made a name for itself as a vegan “radical body care” company that boasts a versatile line of natural products including cosmetics, moisturizers, and exfoliators; The brand uses a simple bold black font on white packaging to emphasize its gender neutrality.

With its motto “Skin is Skin,” Ursa Major, a B-certified company whose name in Latin means “big bear,” promotes its natural skincare line as suitable for all genders and skin types. Think sulfate-free facial cleansers and natural deodorants packaged in white-backed packages and brightly painted mountain ranges. It also offers attractive, gender-neutral slogans including “Hoppin’ Fresh Deodorants” and “Brighten Up Vitamin C Serum.”

Besides having a list of ultra-clean ingredients, Odele shares her philosophy of providing beauty essentials “for you and your people” by using slogans that include “super clean hair care for you and your shower share”. The clean packaging features a large black font on pastel shades, and the white or stoneware packaging is paired with statements on its website such as “We keep it clean. We make it imaginative. We include everyone.”

This trend will only gain momentum as more small and innovative brands continue to embrace genderless language.

Whatever happens, Smith says. “Make it something that continues to help and advance the conversation of inclusivity.”

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