Is software politically correct?

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec

As part of my public relations work, I am often asked by clients for tips on how to approach a specific market, usually designated by a slightly simplistic demographic, full of promises and expectations. Of course, my usual answer is that the key is to first understand and respect a market before attempting to reach it but common sense firmly believes one can, through a few hollow PR tricks, magically extend the reach of brand.

For example, some insurance companies want to reach “The women” or “The gay community” or “Minority groups”, whatever that means, and attempt to do so by adding pink toe nails to their shots, draping a hunky model in a pride flag and adding a token person of color in a shot. To me, these practices are disrespectful and, more often than not, the targeted population reacts as it should: by ignoring the advertiser.

Looking around me however, it seems this rule applies to all industries but one: software. I have seen offers as nonsensical as mortgages for the gay community and car insurance for women, but I haven’t so far seen the same applied to spreadsheets or HTML editors. How come? Do software companies have more good sense? Is it because software is impersonal enough to not be adaptable to a demographic segment, even through a slew of artificial tricks? Or is it, a scary thought, because lifestyle software, unlike lifestyle hardware, hasn’t kicked in yet?

There have been a few half-baked attempts as of late to write software for teens but, if one excepts some crippled down “Kids browsers”, this is, to the best of my knowledge, about it. Software marketers out there, what are you waiting for?


2005-12-09 11:46:34
Sure there is.
I disagree -- it's just that software takes different politics into account. The simplest, most obvious one is the free vs. commercial software movement. There's a lot of effort by some companies (e.g. Apple, in fact) to curry the open-source audience. Some of it may be considered smart by some, and politically correct by others.

Actually, just looking at Apple opens a can of worms. Read comp.mac.advocacy. You can derive lots of implicit politics and associated political correctness discussions. And that's just a start. Throw Linux, Microsoft, etc. into a pot, stir and let boil.


2005-12-09 13:13:11
software industry is in the product stage
Historical anecdote: tetris was hugely succesfull because it brought a new audience into the market for games: women! Trying to explain the success with hindsight brought nothing more than: it appealed to the 'natural' urge of women to tidy things up...
So sad :( Confess you don't know why!

Realize that software is not one market, just as things made of metal is not one market. Software serves an underlying need: to communicate, to save time, to store, to do away with all these boxes with prints and negatives, to make up for a failing memory, as a tool to build other software, etc.

Only when the industry understands how to do these things right, will finer market segmentation justify the higher marketing cost through increased revenue.

2005-12-09 14:46:35
product vs. marketing
Perhaps it would be useful to distinguish between creating a product specifically tailored to a market segment, and creating advertising tailored to a segment without adapting your product.

Microsoft runs different Windows ads at different times and during different programs, in an attempt to reach different market segments with the same product. (Home users versus business users, for example).

Apple's iPod ads are all pretty much the same, but the pastel Minis were obviously targeted at a different market than the 60GB iPod Photo.

I don't think software companies as a whole really do this yet, but it's really only a matter of time.

2005-12-09 19:18:51
MS Billboards
Obviously, you did never install a major MS product that shows various p.c. stereotypes right there in the billboards during installation.
2005-12-10 03:40:44
MS Billboards

Hmm, I confess I haven't installed a Microsoft product in quite a bit now, although I'll be sure to look out for politically correct images the next time I'm given an opportunity!

Billboards during installations, that are starting to appear in the Mac world as well through enhanced Installer packages can be quite disturbing…


2005-12-10 03:43:38
Product vs. Marketing

That is very true and you raise an excellent point by separating products and the accompanying marketing. My "target", so to speak, here, were more products that were specifically crafted for a market or, at least, pretended to be, as is often the case.

It is true that most large companies, including Apple and Microsoft, advertise their software in different ways depending on the medium the ad is placed into.


2005-12-10 03:48:21
Software industry is in the product stage

Hmm, that is one very interesting anecdote. Thank you for sharing it with us!

You are absolutely right in pointing out that software is not a unified market and that there is more to "Software" than might seem at first sight.

I agree that, the more the focus will be placed on what software does instead of its nature, as opposed to hardware or goat cheese, will market segmentation become meaningful and profitable.


2005-12-10 03:49:52
"Is software politically correct?" No
"Is software politically correct?"

I'd say that the dead hand of the PC movement seems not yet to have reached into the software people use. I don't think that's surprising, because it follows power.

And while "political correctness" is a modern phenomenon, there's nothing new about sheltering ambition and the desire to manipulate others behind a supposedly moral code. Consider Moliere's Tartuffe, eh? Or look at Hawthorne's novel _The Scarlet Letter_, where there are all kinds of dark things moving behind a supposed concern with chastity and the sanctity of marriage.

There's nothing much to gain from, say, making a fuss because an email client refers to safe addresses as a "whitelist". It's not that this is an obviously innocent expression; it's that no one would gain publicity or get promotion on the strength of pursuing a developer through the courts for using it.

As for "demographic segments", that's a different thing from "political correctness". I suspect there would be particular types of software that women, for example, would be interested in. Robert X. Cringley did an interview partly aimed at discussing that:

2005-12-10 03:51:57
Sure there is

That is a very interesting approach. I confess I had not seen the dichotomy between Open Source and Commercial or Closed Source software as a method for market segmentation but there certainly is a very valid point here.

As this kind of segmentation is specific to the software world (it does not exist in the same form with respect to other goods), I guess it would be superimposed on other segmentation methods that still remain in full force and effect…

You definitely opened a most interesting door! I'll try to go and venture into the dark hallway… ;^)


2005-12-10 03:57:40
"Is software politically correct?" No

Some most interesting references, thanks for sharing it!

I agree I had forgotten for a moment the fuss that was made about "Whitelists" and "Slave drives" a little while ago. There is indeed little to be gained from engaging such pursuits and I would personally tend to think it is for the best.


2005-12-12 22:46:26
"Should it be?"
With very few exceptions, most software is designed as tools to be used, and therefore don't need the polotical correctness you ask about. How often do you see a hammer or a screwdriver "made for a woman?" A saw "that minorities can use?"

Is there any software specific to one group of the population, outside of occupation? Granted, you have databases and other tools for specific medical uses (think diet planners as an example), but is there any software females can't use? Or gay people? Or minorities? With the exception of a few programs (ie Games), I fail to see how any software is difficult for anyone in this way.

The day they make "Photoshop for Females" is the day I'm suing the ____ out of that company. That'll be the day that political correctness has gone too far.

2005-12-13 01:10:14
"Should it be?"

First of all, thanks for taking the time to share your ideas with us!

I agree that the idea of a "saw minorities can use" or a "screwdriver for women" is somehow ludicrous. This is however because I have seen examples in real life that came very close to that that I was wondering how come the software world hadn't yet jumped on board and created the "Photoshop for women" you mention.

I entirely agree that there is no need for software to be "Politically correct" (or, in my humble opinion, for anything, as political correctness is nothing but a screen of smoke) and that entry was meant to be above all ironic.