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Hal Licino

Avoiding the Inadvertent Email Insult

Nov 03 2010, 12:53 AM by

Last week we touched upon ways to keep your email marketing text neutral & non-offensive by avoiding key words that can be interpreted to be racist or sexist. Indeed, they were so racist and sexist that we couldn't even publish them! However, there are many other ways whereby you may be insulting your readers without using any specifically offensive words. Here are some of the major points.
He / She / He/She???

The English language was crafted during a time when it was assumed by both writers and readers that any generic or unspecified gender would automatically default to male. As recently as the 1970s, it was acceptable for discussions of everything from deities to children to be a "him." As our society has developed a more enlightened consideration for gender, the language has unfortunately not kept up with the times. Thus it is difficult to specify generic gender, as in the case of: "When administering the medicine to your child, hold (his / her / his/her) hand." His/her is cumbersome, and the use of either gender can be deemed discriminatory. The only remotely suitable workaround is to phrase the content in the plural: "When administering the medicine to your children, hold their hands." It's ugly and awkward, but there are no currently available suitable alternatives.

Keep Language Positive

Negative language must be avoided in all of your email marketing content. You especially have to be extremely careful about wording reminders so that they do not sound accusatory. Reminding a customer that they did not renew their subscription should never use terms such as "you neglected to" or "you failed to," as well as any reference to "your lack of response." It is much more acceptable to phrase these reminders in the form of a question, such as "did you receive our reminder notice that your subscription is about to lapse?"

Leave the Pontification to the Pontiff

It is easy to cross the line into pontification when instructing or educating your audience. Using terms such as "you must," "you have to," or "do this" implies that you are commanding rather than informing. That is an approach that is diametrically opposed to the preferable tactic. An email marketing campaign is no place for preaching, moralizing, lecturing or catechizing. Consider your readers as your peers and share information that you believe will be of interest without talking down to them. Shun overly technical or detailed data, but summarize your content in a simple, easy-to-grasp manner that portrays the respect you must have for your audience.

Watch the Humor

Email campaigns that are lightened by a fun sense of comedy can significantly outperform the dull and straight-laced, but it is very easy for satire to be taken the wrong way by some readers. Self-deprecating humor is also a double-edged sword: Some customers will interpret the attempt at self-zinging humor as a confession of your brand's incompetence. Under no circumstance should any national group or profession be singled out in your humor: Any of the old chestnuts about "a lawyer, a doctor, and a priest are shipwrecked on a desert island" or "a Russian, a German, and an Italian walk into a bar" should be left for Improv Night.

Even an extremely minor aspect, such as the position of a hyphen, can change the meaning of a sentence to one that can be seen as offensive. A "small-business owner" is the proprietor of a small business, but a "small business-owner" is a proprietor who is shorter than average. Today more than ever it is imperative to go through each and every one of your email marketing messages with a fine-toothed comb to ensure that no aspect of the content could possibly offend or insult any one of its readers.

Posted in Tips & Resources

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Comments

Adde

Nov 26 2010, 12:01 PM

What? Im very insulted by your implications that short people are easily offended. Is there anything wrong by being short??

Andy from Bechmark Email

Dec 09 2010, 05:20 PM

Sorry about the "low blow." All kidding aside, we always preferred Randy Newman's "You've Got a Friend In Me" anyways.