In many communications, marketers can decide whether to use “politically correct” expressions or expressions that are not explicitly offensive, but that are considered not inclusive. For example, marketers can decide to use the politically correct expression “person experiencing homelessness” instead of the not politically correct “homeless.” They can also use the politically correct “undocumented immigrant” instead of the not inclusive “illegal immigrant.” All these small changes mean a lot to move toward a more inclusive language, but it is not clear how they affect consumers.


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What is politically correct language

Politically correct language is intended here as inclusive language, a form of polite language that does not exclude or imply a moral valence when referring to emarginated groups. Starting from the idea that language is an expression of ideology, the politically correct language (or inclusive language) has been advocated to replace a conservative and bigot ideology with a more inclusive and non-judgmental ideology, particularly for political discourses. In later years, political correctness has been used principally with a pejorative connotation and has been attacked principally by conservative groups.

The politically correct language encompasses the substitution of words with new words (e.g., “Businessman” with “Businessperson” to include women), or expressions with new expressions (e.g., “people with disabilities” instead of “the disabled”).

Politically correct and consumers

It is easy to predict that consumers would be happier if brands started using a language that would include more categories and would not be judgmental. However, little scientific research has been done to test many of the assumptions around politically correct language, and existing research on the topic suggests a more complex picture.

Research shows that consumers can recognize the use of politically correct language and that they use it to make assumptions about the speaker. These assumptions affect the perceived image of the speaker, purchase, and even voting behaviors.

Political orientation

One important assumption for the use of politically correct expressions is about political ideology. Marketers know that politically correct language is a cue of their political orientation. Since Politically correct language has been developed around liberal ideologies, the use of PC can cue democratic and left-wing ideology. On the contrary, those speakers that use non-PC language are assumed to come from a right-wing orientation.

Perceived authenticity

Interestingly, PC language also affects the perceived authenticity of a brand. Consumers perceive politically correct language as a “people pleaser,” or they see it as a way for the company to avoid problems with consumers and activists. The lack of politically correct can be perceived as naïve, or un-elaborated communication, therefore, it can increase the company’s perceived authenticity. For example, a study showed that when a brand uses “illegal immigrant” in a statement, it is perceived to be more authentic than a brand using “undocumented immigrant.” It should be noted that in both cases, the attitude of the consumer for the company was the same, suggesting that there is a small or null effect of politically correct language on consumers’ attitudes toward a brand. However, the use of explicitly denigratory language, had a negative effect on consumer attitudes, warning about the use of expressions that are explicitly offensive.


Monthly Consumer Discoveries is a Monthly newsletter that brings you the most interesting updates in consumer behavior research.





Overall, the research suggests that people are able to distinguish politically correct and denigratory language from traditional plain language. They make assumptions about the brand based on the type of language it uses. They assume that brands using non-politically correct words are more authentic, while consumers have negative attitudes toward brands using denigratory language.



Schmitt, B., Brakus, J. J., & Biraglia, A. (2021). Consumption Ideology. Journal of Consumer Research.

(Upcoming) Politically correct and marketing, ACR 2020 proceedings.



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