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For a celebration of love, Valentine’s can make us feel anything but warm and fuzzy. Emotionally unavailable exes might have something to do with it. But mostly that cold cringe comes down to the ways marketers wrap it up. 

Love is love is love is certainly in the air. More of us are queer than ever. More of us are opting out of one-on-one relationships than ever. More of us are celebrating love of self, friends and pets than ever. But as brands work harder than ever to rethink biases and time-worn habits, the sentiment too often lands clunkily when it comes down to words.  

Take Burberry’s B:Mine campaign. Like the brand’s buzzed-about new logo, it throws off the straightjacket. In images, real-life couples – intimate, scarred, tender – take place of too-polished, white heteronormativity. But here’s the kicker: click to shop and the copy’s all ‘seasonal pink gifts for her’, and ‘leather card cases for him’. So far, so stereotypical, so chasing after SEO.

Sure, some brands tried harder. But when a gifting site reads ‘these gender-inclusive gifts are for her, him, them and everyone' you've got to ask: where's the empathy in these box-ticking exercises? They’ve traded labels but, as customers, do we see ourselves in the words? Do we feel it?

And that gets to the heart of the problem. When inclusive language is boiled down to ‘say this’ ‘don’t say that’, it’s too black-and-white, too fixated on PC terms like ‘caregivers’ or ‘chairperson’. Those generalisations are great for blurring social norms. But let's not lose our focus on human experiences that resonate on a deeper level. The barriers to entry are lower, but what draws us in?

Enter Specsavers. Its contact-lens campaign got heart eyes all round for remembering the people in its message. Like Burberry, the brand got real-life couples in the frame. But words moved beyond labels and stereotypes, digging into those awkward kiss-clash moments shared by glasses wearers. And it spoke directly to them: don’t let your specs get in the way. 

Actions speak louder than politically correct labels. Use them, absolutely. But think of them like recyclable packaging: essential, expected, but not especially motivating alone. They help us steer clear of assumptions that might make people unwelcome. But as brands with customer insight, there’s no need to assume. Understanding who you’re speaking to is how to connect.

OkCupid’s arrow hit the mark with it. For two years, the platform had seen the number of users identifying as non-binary, bisexual and pansexual grow. Its response? Rip up the ‘Hallmark’ Valentine’s Day, and create greetings cards exploring love in all its forms. This wasn’t a pronoun swap; OkCupid tuned into customers’ day-to-day. Think: couples bonding over climate-change-denying dads, butt dials and that significant other who’s still ‘OkCupid Dave #3’ in your phone.

Like many of our relationships – lovers, friends, situationships – words come and go. Hot today, cringe tomorrow. As brands and writers, it’s important to move with the cultural conversation. But let’s move people on an emotional level too. Give inclusive language some love.

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“Language imparts identity, meaning and perspective to our human condition. Writers can be part of the pollution, or part of the clean up.”

— Mary Pipher, clinical psychologist and author
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The Interview Header
On the subject of love, the S&T team is head over heels in it for the @beam_me_up_softboi Instagram account. Double taps for every hilarious, horrifying and heartbreaking DM slide. And the inevitable ghosting. Ahead of the big V-day, we chatted with its creator and journalist Iona David about txt spk, a silly billy tone of voice and how dating platforms of the digital age can stay in the real world.
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Happy endings. Many want them, few find them, and this year brands bonded with customers missing them. Topo Chico sent scorpions to old flames, Who Gives a Crap made loo roll from love letters, and a small-town cattery let jilted lovers get revenge via litter tray. But for us, razor brand Estrid delivered the sharpest message of all: Go F**k Yourself. Flipping the sad-single narrative, its self-love campaign gave the finger to society’s pressure to partner up and shut up about the thing we all do: masturbate. One in three of us were at it on V-day say the stats. Expect play-with-yourself card games, spicy tunes and taboo-busting ways to climax.
Step into the customer’s shoes and write a love letter to your brand – or brand of choice.

See the world from their point of view. How does your brand show up in their day-to-day? How do they feel using your product? Why can’t they live without you? What would tempt them to cheat on you…

Hit reply to submit your prompt


Read, Scroll, Listen

Writers take note: narrative structures turn us on
AI is as sexist as the society that made it
Losing confidence in marketing? Rory Sutherland isn’t
Text, tip, host, ghost – we’re all playing the game of modern etiquette
If you’re tackling business challenges, language can help

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