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Gender in Marketing

by Marcia Yudkin

The Question Put to Marketing Minute Subscribers

A few years ago, while teaching a class on writing voice at a writers' conference, I read aloud the opening of one of Jay Conrad Levinson's "Guerrilla Marketing" books. "How do you picture this author, from the writing?" I asked.

"'Attack'; 'guts'; 'battleground': macho. Gung-ho. Ugh," said a woman in her fifties.

This wasn't what I expected to hear, knowing Jay as a friendly, gentle man who just likes to make the most of a resonant metaphor.

Equally startling was a comment that came my way last week from a man working for the publisher of my next book: "I sure hope a book called 'Web Site Marketing Makeovers' appeals to male buyers. Among the rather liberal crowd of guys I hang with, the word 'makeover' sometimes causes eyes to roll."

For you, does the word 'makeover' come across as feminine? If so, do you consider that positive or negative? When you read marketing copy, business magazines and books, do you ever find the writing (rather than the content) masculine or feminine? I'd love your comments.

The Responses in Summary

About 100 subscribers weighed in on this question, many with thoughtful commentary, some (on both sides) with very strongly worded opinions.  Although some responses couldn’t be easily tallied, the overall trend was pretty clear:

  • “Makeover” is feminine and/or superficial and therefore bad to use in a book title:  62%

  • “Makeover” is feminine and fine to use in a book title:  21%

  • “Makeover” is gender-neutral:  17%

The Responses in Detail

Here, with no editing other than spelling correction, are the opinions in full.  If you find the question interesting, you’ll find more food for thought here – lots of additional examples and thoughts on marketing to different populations.


1. No, it doesn't come across to me as feminine--to me it's gender neutral.

2. If that guy defines himself as a liberal, what's his definition of a

3. His employer should put him in a job where he never has contact with the outside world--take away his telephone.

William J. Altier


Marcia, I believe it is an "association" principle.  Makeover is a buzz word that is indelibly attached to cosmetics.  In magazines, on Oprah, in ads, "Makeover" is most always in direct connection with women's cosmetics.  Perhaps the closest thing I can compare it with is the word "action".  If a book or movie or TV show uses the word "action" it usually means violence, explosions, and intense situations. It also means "macho".  Yes, "action" should relate to more benign situations, like a horse race or an Olympic competition, "makeover" in ads for women's products, "action" has an association with macho violence.

The English language is alive and it continually changes and evolves.  In the 1920's a book might talk of a "dapper, gay fellow, sitting behind his desk and sucking on a faggot."  How differently that same phrase reads and is understood in popular culture just 80 years later!

Refreshed or renewal might be better takes on the book title.  Good luck!

Scott Ringwelski

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Yes, I do associate "makeover" with women probably because of all the fashion magazines that feature cosmetic "makeovers" for women. I've never seen a "makeover" feature in any of the men's magazines.

As for being positive or negative, I think it has more of a "fluff" connotation - superficial - just like the new hairdos in the magazines. So I think the concern is valid. It lacks strength and doesn't communicate intellectual depth.
Susan Wright


Yes, "makeover" is associated with feminine things -- fashions, make-up, hairstyles, room decorating, glamour-photo shoots.

Now, whether or not those things listed above should be considered feminine or not is another question, but whether or not they SHOULD be is irrelevant.
Coleen Sykora


Yes, I do consider the word "Makeover" as feminine, at least on a first
impression.   It would possibly be a negative to you, as most men won't want a book lying around their home or office for others to see the title.  Can't think of a good replacement word right now.  Will let you know if I think of one.

Kathy Rysavy


I'm afraid I'd have to agree with the "guy" who felt that the word Makeover was feminine.  Especially in my Image Consulting Industry, that word is thrown around all the time -- in reference to women.  I personally try not to use it, as I feel it's overused, even in my industry.  I taught a class for several semesters at Newton Adult Ed, entitled "Secrets of Makeup Application".  It sold out each time I taught it.  When I tried to teach the same class in Lexington, they insisted on calling the class "Makeover Magic".  I felt the title was overused, and ultimately, only one person signed up for the class.

Sandra Tollos


Yes, I too get a female connotation. But, I get a masculine "lean" with the term "overhaul."  When I was working in "the real world"  I would always refer to any changes as "revamping" or "restructuring."  They just seemed less threatening to both sides of the gender fence!

Sally Lentz


For me "makeover" does have feminine implicatons; and these may be a bit negative in the context you propose -- which I think should be clearly gender neutral.

Incidentally, usage and vocabulary in the Japanese language do differ significantly, depending upon whether the writer is a man or a woman -- so in that language, it is quite easy to note the sex of the author. In English, though, unless there are unusual clues, you can't really determine whether a male or female wrote something.

Dick Weltz

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Yes, I find it both. Sometimes the writing style reveals the gender of the
writer as well as who he/ she is writing to. And the guy who commented in the word makeover does have a point. I wouldn't consider the word exactly positive or negative, but I would hesitate when using it when advertising for guys. Makeovers are associated with women in most people's minds.

Ms. Inji Grizi
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

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I've seen the word "makeover" on your site many times. Until now, I never thought of it as a gender cue.

Marketing Makeovers - It just seemed to be smooth because of the alliteration despite the guttural  "K" sound in each word.

But now that you brought it to my attention, it might seem feminine from now on . Gee Thanks Marcia! 8-)

But that brings out a valid point, sometimes things don't occur to people until somebody mentions it. That's a big part of repositioning a competitor. It's like the emperor's new clothes.

Marketing Makeovers seems positive, soft and nonthreatening as opposed to telling a client, "I'm going to overhaul your web site." OR "I'm going to repair your ad."

I never thought of Jay's book series as masculine, just kind of dramatic.

I don't usually think of articles, sales copy or books as gender based unless the slant is obvious to appeal to members of one of the genders. But sometimes the way things are written (the style) seems to be softer and possibly feminine. That may be the writer's intention at times.

If I were to write copy for a florist, I'd use a masculine slant/flavor to get men to buy flowers for women. If the goal were to get women to buy flowers, I'd use a feminine slant/flavor.

I don't mean to pick on you, Marcia, but you wrote, "I'd love your comments." I think most men would write I'd like your comments.

Dennis S. Vogel


I remember an academic paper from the 60s in which various CAPTIONS ONLY from The New Yorker cartoons were shown to the test group, who were asked whether the cartoon character speaking was a man or a woman. Their picks were something like 95% accurate. The women characters' remarks had words like "really" and "just" and had emotional content.

As a southern woman, I find that my writing tends to be light-hearted and effusive, though it is totally sincere. This question you raise makes me rethink how I want to come across, because, alas, the feminine voice is usually perceived as less professional or powerful. Once I've had an actual conversation, people invariably sense my authenticity -- but I wonder how many prospective clients I might have missed because of my writing style.

Roz van Meter

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I do think there are gender cues in writing, marketing and communicating.

I am a management consultant & business coach.  I have found that those coaches who refer to 'makeover', whether it's lifestyle, career, etc.,
generally attract female clients.  I work well with males or females, & want
about 50% male clients &  CEO's.  I found if I always use the word
'strategy' in my pr, company name, writing, I get at least a 50% response from males.

I have also found different responses between males and females to colors, the way questions are asked, and the way goals are set and acted upon.

Laurie Kirk


Being a male, I don't see any problem with using the word Makeover. Women's talk shows have coined the word in the last 10 years to refer to females, but I don't see it as feminine.

When I read magazines, books, and marketing copy, I just don't see the
writing as gender specific. I think most writers take great care to be gender neutral.

Where I see a problem with your title is in using the word "marketing" in
the title. It slightly confuses me as to what you're really offering. Is it
a makeover of a website, or a makeover of the way one markets on a website?

Patrick C.


I never thought of words as being masculine or feminine.  But now that you bring it up, 'makeover' does have that feminine connotation.  Wouldn't men say 'restructure'?

Barbara Evans


I'm a member of the Creative Education Foundation (CEF) in Buffalo, NY.
The board of directors recently wrote a new vision statement that begins "To provoke creativity...."

Provoke?  To me that's quite masculine.  When asked asked for feedback, I wrote them a note saying that my synonym for "provoke" was "to piss off" and I thought they were inviting unnecessary push back with such an aggressive word. I suggested "evoke creativity."

Their response was that "evoke" was too feminine and fluffy a word for a vision statement that is intended to position the organization as a change agent.

I've just returned from CEF's annual Creative Problem Solving Institute where the new vision statement was launched.  The response? "Provoke? I don't want to provoke anyone." The writing group I lead there every year was incensed. Men and women alike rejected it as too negative and hostile.

My connection with "makeover"?  Sounds like an Oprah show or one of those beauty magazine articles that shows frumpy women looking suddenly gorgeous. So I suppose it is feminine. However, web association neutralized that frivolous connotation for me. I'd buy the book with that title.  Hope you let your readers know what men have to say.

Alison Strickland
Applied Creativity, Inc.


I do not like the word makeover because it suggests the first look (or a
woman's face as it is usually applied toward) was no good to begin with.
And, once after experiencing a "makeover" I looked worse than before. A
better word would be more of a grabber that suggested success, such as
"High Exposure, or High Draw or Big Hit Websites...doesn't denigrate what
went before and promises success. Only a thought. And it gets around maleand female preconceptions of the word.

Sandra Weintraub

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A couple of points.

1) I don't find the word 'makeover' to be exclusively feminine. After all, we
makeover houses, backyards, etc. I do, however, think of it as meaning
'superficial'. I would hope your book would recommend more than superficial changes.

2) Now that you ask, I am generally unable to detect the gender of the author while reading an article. In fact, I never give it much thought.

Mike Sullivan


For your information: a newspaper published this week their daily news in
two formats. One for male readers and one for their female readers. It was
an experiment in Belgium. The editor stated that female/male readers don't
have similar interests. Most of the articles had the same topic, however,
the angle was different.

Bert Jongen


Yes, makeover is very feminine to me. It suggests the superficiality of make-up. A makeover usually refers to women and their looks.

Linda Patterson


Hi Marcia  - Some voices to me seem decidedly feminine, but then I usually know whether the writer is a woman or not.  Makeover to me had the connotations of change but I hadn't thought of the gender context until your Marketing Minute note. Then it did seem to have very definite connotations. However, that ambiguity might cause someone to pause over the title and consider the book. And I think that the broader connotations of makeover as change over ride any gender connotations, but then that just might be a women's perspective.

Camilla McLaughlin


Yes, initially "Web Site Makeover" sounds like "The Web for Women."  But no, I don't normally consider writing feminine or masculine.

Leonard Nimoy said when he presented publishers with his autobiography, "I'm Not Spock," they didn't like the title.  They said, "We find book buyers are turned off by negative titles."  To which Nimoy said, "What about 'Gone with the Wind?'"  Nimoy's book came out with his title and sold well to Star Trek fans.

Art Howard


What an interesting contemplation!  I've never thought about it, but the
word "makeover" does strike me as feminine. I usually think of
"makeovers" as "beauty makeovers" like they have in women's magazines.
I wonder what a better suggestion would be...

My thesaurus suggests "renovate" -- "refurbish" -- "rebuild"  along with
the more ordinary amend, correct, restore, redecorate, remodel, repair,
refashion.  Now it's leading me on to...
breathe new life into

One of these words in a unique phrase could make a catchy title with a
fun graphic:  REVIVE YOUR WEBSITE!!  Or perhaps not...! but it could be
the mind-jog that gets you on the right track.

Thanks for the opportunity to do a bit of word-mongering this morning.
It reminds me of how long it took to come up with my own business name:
Center Edge. I'm trainied in Brain Gym®, and use these amazingly
effective techniques to support business, education and personal
growth.  When you're centered, you have the edge.  And Center Edge is an oxymoron that people remember.

Now that I've said that, I'm afraid you'll check out my website, which
is extremely basic.  I threw it together myself (Claris HomePage) when I
knew I was going to be on the TV news.  It was such a big project and I
haven't dedicated the time to revamp it.  Hey - revamp!  There's another
word.  Maybe not the best one, but in the creative process, suppressing
one "rejected" idea keeps the rest from coming.  So I suggest you just
get them all out, without self-editing, and see where they go.  Try 3x5
cards on the floor and walk around them for awhile, noticing what your
eye keeps coming back to.

Kathy Brown, M.Ed.

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Makeovers is an inside term in the print design field. It's also what happens to my wife when she spends 2 hours and $100 at some boutiquey salon in St. Paul called Christopher's.

The people I hang with--mostly conservatives--love Jay's books. He speaks with authority. He doesn't equivocate. He gets to the point and what he says rings true with our own experiences.

You might consider political world view in addition to gender when reviewing your title. Remember, conservatives love Dick "We're not going to be able to conserve our way out of the energy shortage" Cheney. Liberals embrace Bill "I feel your pain" Clinton. Cheney's claim happens to be true. Clinton's is irrelevant.

Since almost twice as many Americans identify themselves as conservative as liberal, maybe you should start hanging with few guys whose eyes mist when they hear the name Ronald Reagan.

Best of luck with your title search.

Rod Hanson


> For you, does the word 'makeover' come across as feminine?

Yes. From this title, I would tend to think that the author is a woman. Alternatively, if a book has "guerrilla" in the title, I would think the author is a man.

> If so, do you consider that positive or negative?

It depends on what is being made over. (s)

I take into account the source of the terminology. Men and women do tend to use different terms, metaphors, and analogies to express the same ideas. So if a book is written by a woman and has "makeover" in the title, for example, it would strike me as being unremarkable. On the other hand, if the author is male and the title is "feminine" or vice versa, I would feel some dissonance.

However, if what I am looking for is a book on web sites, this would have little, if any, influence on whether I would look at it. It may actually make it more likely since our customers are mostly women.

In summary, if the topic of a book is neither feminine nor masculine,
terminology would not be a significant influence. If I am looking for information, I don't care who gives it to me. If the topic can be labeled by sex, such as football, then it probably would have an influence.

Overall I can't say I have given this much conscious thought. Writing this reply has made me think about it more than I remember ever having done before.

Ken Davis


Makeover = make up (feminine), buzz word (empty, me-to thinking), false (changed some, not entirely re-made).

I think I can hold off judgement on content regardless of style, but if it
is noticeable, it should add to the words (macho style from refined, gentle
voice may be a hook - or a distraction) or else it is just a distraction
that keeps me from absorbing the words - like background noise.
John Linstrom

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Yes, I do find "makeovers" feminine and believe it would not appeal to a
male audience as much as something more to the point, like "Web Site
Marketing Overhauls" or Rework Your Web Site Marketing And Maximize Your ROI. So, negative, if you are shooting for a male audience.

Q. When you read marketing copy, business magazines and books, do you ever find the writing (rather than the content) masculine or feminine?

All of the time.

Cheryl Stewart


I have been a writer all of my professional life, first as a journalist and then as a marketing communications copywriter.

I have seen many people identify certain writing as written by a male or a female, and in most cases they're wrong.

"Makeover" is a very very common term in graphic arts -- to the extent that, as you know, design publications have columns with names such as "The Five-Minute Makeover."

I say either your publisher is a sexist pig or has had no exposure to graphic arts, which I find highly suspect for someone in the publishing business!

When I read copy I'm never thinking about the gender of the person who wrote it -- I focus on the message. I suspect folks that do have some deeper psychological problems.

Tim McGraw


Yes, I think the word "makeover" is too feminine; it's way off the spectrum. Maybe you have to get macho like Levinson to get your point across. It's been working for him for decades now. I don't have a suggestion for a title for your book. Why not tweak your brain by looking at some titles on

Regards, Barbara Peppriell


In response to your question about masculine or feminine reading I'm looking at some of the books I've read earlier and 2 come to mind straight away. Firstly "The WarRoom Guide to Competitive Intelligence" by Shaker and Gembicki, which definitely appeals to the male side and CI's link to the CIA a male dominated field.

Secondly Jack Welch (GE) "Control your destiny or somebody else will" which appears more neutral and who one of my female colleagues just read and who reiterated both my thoughts....

Chris Wright


I agree that the word "makeover" does have feminine undertones. For years it's been associated with make-up and new hairdos. Now Oprah and Cheryl Richardson are doing "Lifestyle Makeovers," which appear to be targeted to a female audience.

Still, men are getting makeovers, too, and many males these days have very well balanced male and female sides. The gender roles and the language that accompanies them isn't all that delinated these days. But my first reaction to the word makeover is that it is associated more with women.

GinaMaria Jerome

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I do think "makeover" is a word associated w/women's TV programs and magazines. I don't think it's negative, but I'm not a guy. I think guys might avoid it.

Andrea Eagles


I'm a guy and no, "Makeover" is not a problem. I'm used to the term from
those magazines which have features on page layout makeovers or copy writing makeovers. In the numerous computer articles that cross my desk and e-mail boxes, I seldom find the articles masculine or feminine in tone. Perhaps a couple of times I detected a female writer because of the way she approached the subject (dont know how to explain this, but I knew it when I read it. A check of the author's name bore out my suspicion). It is extremely rare that a male writer conveys a tone obviously chest-thumping masculine, but that tone has been deliberately set by the author when I've come across it.

Steve Husting


I admit to having had "subliminable" negative reactions to "makeover,"
associating it more with "a new face" than a substantive change.  "Overhaul" would be the equally laden masculine counterpart, I suppose.

Peter Storandt


Yes, "makeover" does have a distinctly feminine feel - probably because of its extensive use to describe the process of creating a new look for a person, almost always a woman (popularized by women's magazines and talk shows).

That's neither positive or negative from my standpoint. But I can certainly understand how the word's perceived femininity would raise a red flag for someone trying to sell a book to a predominantly male audience.

When I was learning to write marketing copy, I had a mentor/tutor who happened to be male.  I learned a great deal from him, especially during our discussions (read: differences of opinion) about style. In the process, I learned how to bring a tighter, edgier style to projects that warranted it. And he learned the merits of bringing a slightly softer, more expressive style to certain projects.

At the time I really didn't think about our differences as being gender-related, but in retrospect perhaps they were.  And now that I think about it, when I feel that a prospective client may be looking at me through gender bias, I tend to show them my edgier writing samples.

Leslie Limon


"Web Site Marketing Makeovers" seems feminine to me.  If you are targeting a feminine market, that would be positive.  If you do not want a gender bias, it's a negative.

Furthermore, to me a "makeover" is more style than substance.  As an owner of an ecommerce web site ,  I am much more interested in substance (sales) than style (eye candy).  In fact, too much style can actually decrease sales.

That's my two cents worth.

John Schussler

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When I was 10, my dad told me he did not enjoy any literature from female authors (except for Ayn Rand, his favorite (note: Ayn should not serve as an exception to his rule as she would probably agree that males are better authors).  He encouraged me, however, to form my own opinions.

As a result of his insistence, I have been looking to prove him wrong for years, but have never been able to convince him that there are many female authors who write with a "gender-less" tongue.  I think there are some that, barring a female picture on the back cover and name on the binding, would be "gender-anonymous".  (In fact, I'd be willing to bet that Dad has enjoyed a few books written by females using a male pen name).

I finally realized that the quality, tone and tongue of the literature made NO difference in appealing to my father.  It always comes back to the marketing guru's alma mater:  Perception is Reality.  Though he's open-minded in most areas of life, Dad perceives some female writing to be flowery and verbose, therefore it is.  If he read "makeover" on the front of any book, he would probably pass it over.  Is my father cheating himself out of some of the best literature in the world?  Yes, and I think he even knows that.  Would your pocket suffer because of this?  If there are more people out there that think like my Dad, and there are, I'm sure it would.

I believe that when you're writing social commentary,  you can be as opinionated as you want.  In fact, the more  brassy, the better.  But if you are writing for the masses, it's best to stay on middle ground so as not to alienate any purchasers!

 Jenni Reid


The word 'makeover' does seem feminine, but not objectionably so.

'Makeover' does sound cosmetic.  But then that is what you are talking
about...making over the way the site looks.  Who can argue with that?  I'm reading Guerilla Marketing for Writers right now and can tell that the
author is not a brute, but simply clever and thorough in his instructions
and impact.

So here's one vote for keeping your title.  It seems to be just what the
book is about and for every male "put off" you might get 3 females "drawn
in."  Not to mention men who are not sexist.  Just don't call it something
like 'Mascara for Monkey Marketing'!  Even a sensitive guy like Levinson
might object.  ;-)

Bob Joyce


In response to your questions:
I perk up on hearing the word "makeover." But I'll admit that I particularly love articles on makeovers in women's magazines--the ones that show how a little artfully placed makeup and a dramatic new haircut can shave years off a woman's face! So I guess that would make it feminine for me.

I also love to read about makeovers for design, copywriting, and other work, like the ones you write about. When I think about it, I like makeovers because I'm always looking to improve myself, even in areas that I feel are my strong points. Is the passion for self-help more feminine than masculine? In our society today, I believe it is. There are plenty of men who seek to improve themselves through advice from books and other media--and my husband is one of them--but I think there are far more men who may want to know these things but feel they look weak if they pursue this advice.

Although I've characterized "makeover" as feminine, I think it's a positive
attribute. But then again, I'm a female.

Bonnie Feingold


Living in a more blatant sexist, male chauvinistic area, I definitely believe wording and image shapes the gender of your business in the minds of the locals.  (We moved from Philadelphia suburbs to VERY rural, mountainous Tioga, PA.)

My husband, although very traditional and you could even say sexist in his views of women, is surprisingly fine with being self employed under the name Gingers Office Jazz.  The company name may be a deterrent for progression in our conservative area.

When thinking of marketing material and local paper ads, I typically try to appeal to a more masculine crowd simply because the majority of companies here in the boonies are run by men.

This "backwards" mindset is been the biggest adjustment for me, considering the much more open, balanced, acceptable environment of the Philly area regarding male/female and how women are viewed.  Thankfully, we moved here solely for the mtns, fly fishing, backpacking, hiking, etc.

Off the cuff, I would say "makeover" would be interpreted as a feminine word, even downstate.  Although, the mature man who has a correct and
non-cultural dictated mindset, would be able to look past such childish and selfishly egocentric lines.  I've met men like this and have a high respect for their wisdom and maturity.

Ginger Knapp

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Marcia, I find that "makeover" has a distinctly feminine connotation, particularly in this fashion magazine and mall-obsessed generation where
females line up for free, high-publicity appearance transformations on
glossy pages and at cosmetics counters.

In response to your second question, the only magazines that "write" feminine or masculine prose are the ones that aim to reach gender-based
markets.  PC Magazine, Business Week and other business or marketing
publications do not strike me as gender-influenced.  They are simply
informative publications.   Brill's Content, Harper's, USN&WR for that
matter, are also gender-neutral.

On the rare occasion that I sense a publication pandering to a feminine
perspective (I am excluding tongue-in-cheek humor), I shut the pages and
turn to something interesting.  I don't even subscribe to women's
magazines.  I find them boring and self-aggrandizing.  I prefer
intellectual content.

Yocheved Golani  


Makeover as used above sounds feminine and it would stir a negative feeling in me unless I was reading a woman's magazine.

I have all of Jay's books and they helped me a lot.

Gordon Brown  


Yes, it does come across as feminine.  I feel it's a little too genteel for a
marketing book.  Most marketing should be stronger with definitives and
superlatives.  I want to be 'bowled over', or enraptured by the marketing
suggestions.  I want my message to grab them and not let them go.  The more it grabs them, the sooner till they hire me.  In this plethora of advertising and marketing, a soft, gentle ad is more likely forgotten.  There are a few exceptions, but I'd rather play the odds.

Also a makeover suggests to me simply making some changes to what I'm already using.  My idea is that many of us who would read a marketing book need more than just a makeover, we need to create Frankenstein with our marketing pieces.



I would not hesitate picking up (and buying) a book with that title. While
"Makeovers" may imply feminine, in context with "Web Site Marketing" sets
the tone and tells me what it is about. I put everything I read into its
context of the overall package and so that would not bother me.

John Vonhof


I have heard gender based "resistance" to this from others but only from men.  I would guess, don't know, that most women want/seek business concepts that are more male oriented and men would not.

Rosalind Joffe  


Comments on gender cues. I am a woman working in the metal and steel
industry marketing to men. It is my experience that despite our ego imposed equality issues we always have been and always will be different from men. I'm not suggesting here that we head back to the kitchen donning wooden spoons and not to over simplify, yet an apple is an apple, as an orange is an orange, one may try to mimic the other yet it will always be an imitation of the original.

Their basic drives are different. They walk, talk, and process information
differently than women. Their genetic architecture is different, so we as a
society may try to fool ourselves that we are androgynous yet evolution
seems to win every time. There are certain words that are verboten in
writing copy for men. They want to get to the point immediately. When we understand the differences and appreciate them, we can learn instead of trying to homogenize people. And as you know, it is imperative that
marketers have knowledge of human psychology, their targeted audience and more information on the product they're selling than anyone else.      

International marketing is even more diverse so it stands to reason that the basic premise is to study the particular group in question.

Paula DiFoggio


"Makeover" reeks of Glamour mag.

Andrea Ignatoff

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That's a really interesting question and I think I may side with your editor. Men might find the idea of a makeover repugnant since they're all so certain that they're already fine just the way they are! (How's that for a sexist response?)

Barbara Winter


I do think makeover has connotations of feminine change.  Why not try
alterations or modifications or transformations or metamorphosis?

Dorothy Molstad


Absolutely!  Your target determines whether it's positive or negative.  I
program a rock radio station.  The demo is 25-54 year old males.  My
marketing efforts, on and off air, have a very masculine feel to them.
That's by design.  I've bought Levinson's "Guerilla" series.  I wouldn't
normally purchase a book named "Marketing Makeovers".  By the way, I read marketing books instead of radio books because I see radio programming as marketing, and marketing books tend to anticipate trends while most radio books are behind the curve.  I'm a Ries/Trout disciple, and it's worked well for me.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tom Bass


I don't. My husband's does.  His favorite comment "this is a woman's book"
when reading something sensitive where people "really" communicate. He's
getting better and is actually finishing reading some of them.  There's hope!

Marilyn Mackay


When I hear the word "makeover," I think of facials, spa treatments, even
plastic surgery.  Do you think the word "overhaul" would describe what you can do for web sites?  I realize that "marketing makeover" has the advantage of alliteration.

Joan Huyser-Honig


As a male reader of your column, "Makeover" doesn't sound feminine to
me.  I think "makeover" has gone into the English language in the past few
years with connotations far beyond facials and spa treatments.  I have
seen it used quite frequently in articles in marketing publications. Indeed, if there were any reason NOT to use the word in your book title, it would be that it is getting to be something of a cliché.  Not quite just yet, but nearly.  I'd stick with it.

Mike Harris


Good question.  I am a female that is very sensitive to the use of gender
specific language.  I find most of the language in copy and in the majority
of books and magazines to be male-oriented in nature (with the exception of those targeted to women, of course), and it bothers me greatly.  In this day and age, I find that writers lose credibility in their exclusion of more than 50% of the world's population by using the archaic yet pervasive "MAN (male pronoun)" to encompass the human species.

I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology.  If I remember my studies correctly, both males and females - surprisingly - find language perceived as feminine to be less credible, and to have a (slightly) negative

The word "makeover", to me, does have a feminine connotation (probably
because it is used at least once in every issue of women's magazines).
Although I do not find it to be negative in any way, some may think so.
Writers must be careful of the language they are using, or they risk losing
the interest of a large portion of their audience.

Kirsten Warren


It's subliminal, but yes, "makeover" has a feminine connotation and I'd say
that's a negative for you. Likewise, I probably wouldn't buy the "guerilla
marketing" book because I don't see myself as a cut-throat marketer.

I can think of several asexual synonyms that might better serve both
genders: "transformation," "metamorphosis," "revision," "renovation" or
"conversion." Or another angle would be to offer a visual idea:  "Turn your
Web Marketing Inside Out."  "Flip the Lid on Your Web Marketing."  "Web
Marketing Under the Microscope." "Web Marketing: Around the World in 80

Excellent reminder to watch our marketing language, Marcia, thanks!

Mary Jo Sinner

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For you, does the word 'makeover' come across as feminine?

Only once you asked.  But it's not a "strong" (macho?) word.

If so, do you consider that positive or negative?

For me, words that are clearly feminine don't get the reaction you probably want.  It's as if you're talking to someone else.

When you read marketing copy, business magazines and books, do you ever find the writing (rather than the content) masculine or feminine? 

 I often react to the style as well as the content.  This covers a lot of territory:  grammar, masculine/feminine bias, politics, slang in serious articles, misuse of words (especially "fancy" words).  I could add to this list for a long time.

To the extent that all communication is selling, the first rule is to know your audience.  Don't assume they are just like you.  Don't talk down (or up) to them.  Try to find the right level first, or your message will be ignored.

Jeff Kenton


I always tended to lean towards the conservative side of things but as I've worked in the Internet business the last few years I tend to be a tad bit more liberal. As far as the word 'makeover' I don't recognize it as a gender oriented word as much as I do a business concept. As in a 'business makeover'.

As far as reading content I've never noticed masculine or feminine context. If I find the content relevant to a particular task or need a gender specific context would not matter. My wife always tells me I'm a sensitive male.

Chris Creighton


First, I didn't have the same impression as your male friend that "makeover" had negative connotations.  However, I'm not even close to your sports loving "Tool Town" type of male.

In addition to computer consulting and programming I write business columns and teach the occasional business course at the college.  I may be deemed "sensitive" but I'm not THAT sensitive.

My quick straw pole of male and female clients suggests they aren't picking up on such cues either.  Unless it is blatant.  In those cases it was quite clear the copy was attempting to sound masculine or feminine.

I suspect you will find there will be a range of sensitivities.  As always a writer must know their audience in order to judge how subtle a clue the
reader will pick up.

I'm still shaking my head over the comment about "makeover."  I understand it but find that way too touchy.  As we move towards a global economy it is sad, Americans and Canadians are becoming an oversensitive and intolerant.
Eric Bachleitner   


What an interesting question.  I do believe makeover has a cosmetics/ girlish feel to it, but somehow I am not bothered by its use in a business sense like Website makeover.  So count me with the neutral votes.

Ruth P. Stevens


Marcia: I'm not sure if the word makeover is feminine sounding or just plain
dated. It smacks of old style writing. For what it's worth.

John Restivo


"Makeover" is definitely feminine in tone... redesign/reconfigure/rework ..
one of those terms is more ... um.... generic... neutral?  Interesting images emerge from words... most of them unconscious... !

Pat Mullaly

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Marcia, I'm a 61 year old male geek and I doubt if I ever would buy a book
with "makeover" in the title. Sorry, it just makes me think of adding some
extra eye shadow and blush to the subject.  It sounds like you're saying
"get your marketing plans ready for a glamour shot."

Personally, I'd prefer "revamps"... but then that would probably be just as
sexist in image for the females.

"Redesigns" is probably gender neutral.

BTW, here's what my dictionary says:

makeover: an act or instance of making over; esp: a changing of a person's appearance (as by the use of cosmetics or a different hairdo.)

make over: to transfer title; remake, remodel

DC Stultz


For you, does the word 'makeover' come across as feminine?

Yes, because I first heard about it many years ago used in reference to
cosmetic treatments (often done at the local mall by a cosmetic company

To me, gender-neutral words that say the same thing would be "improvement," "redesign," and perhaps even "upgrade."

Ed Purdy


Hi Marcia, yes, the word "makeover" has a definitely feminine tone. And I
like it, in my opinion it is a positive word. But of course, I'm a woman and
I like makeovers.

And yes, when I read something, I often find that the writing has a feminine or masculine undertone.
Rita Fisher


Marcia - maybe it's because my business is web sites, but a web site
"makeover" never struck me as sounding either masculine or feminine ... it
always has been neutral to me.

But it reminds me of when I first created my own site a few years ago
and used blue and magenta, the colors of my print promotional material.  One guy who looked at it commented that the colors might seem feminine (I'm not quite sure why that's a problem since I *am* a she, not a he ;-)); another guy's first comment was that he loved my colors and thought they were bright, upbeat, and appropriate for someone offering to create web sites.  I don't know that it's ever possible to find the entirely neutral ground.

Barb Leff


To me, makeover always seems to indicate something being made-over, such as a street which is scraped up and then repaved is made-over, or something superficially falsified, like a facade on a building. Is what is being described as a make-over really transitioned closer to the older or newer commitment? Words are important, as they do make pictures. In one of my faculty gigs I share the assignment with other faculty members to teach people to photograph what the message is they wish to show a viewer. It's harder than many think, and 20+ year photogs discover they have not been on target much in that time. All who wish to convey a message need to try very hard to assign the values they wish others to percieve to that which is submitted as stimulus. A proper stimulus should send a definite message, and not serve as a potentially misinterpreted multi-definition Rorschach. Make-over? Lots of interpretations there. Enhance the focus of your commitment? Maybe closer, although not as slick sounding. That's my 2 cents.

Mark Bell


Marcia - As long as Oprah remains on the air, "makeover" willl bring to mind
the female plea, "I need a new look for a new outlook on life." – JB


Hi Marcia,

"Makeover" is definitely girly; and I do react negatively to "guy" management stuff. the words "strategy" and "tactical" are all over the place, lots of "the view from 20,000 feet" etc. what I find most useful are practical small-picture tips--sort of like Marketing Minute. I am certainly capable of thinking big picture, but the big picture requires a lot of small brush strokes. Thanks.

Susan Karcz


Yes , makeover does sound like cosmetics (feminine) and is even a turn-off for women like me that don't use make-up.

Ulrike Dettling


When I hear or see the word "makeover," I immediately think of what were, in essence, makeup overhauls of female customers at department store cosmetics counters, although the term has since been generalized to include overall presentation.  However, since "makeovers" in your title is preceded by strong neutral words, "web site" and "marketing," its use may be less of a problem to males.

There are numbers of things which may lead to a perception of "genderization," but most are rooted in content, such as: (1) Use of militaristic, aggressive-contact-sport, or automotive images or (2) Pejorative use of words stereotypically associated with one gender. The frequency and context of this content makes a difference as well.

Even though writing styles may suggest gender, such as, unremitting short simple sentences - "masculine" (Hemingway) - and  compound and complex sentences - "feminine" (Faulkner), I think that what people really resonate to is word- and image choice and its context, specifically, the degree to which the audience identifies their experience, thinking, and/or feeling in a similar situation with the word/context association.

Signe A. Dayhoff


Marcia, yes, I'm very sensitive to the gender-association of metaphors.   I
recoil at standard business language such as "penetration" of markets.   I
get very weary with sports metaphors.

One of my favorite stories was when Congresswoman Pat Schroeder said of Clinton, "He took us to the dance, but left without us."   I doubt a man
would ever say that.

I would never have identified "makeover" as particularly feminine.  I've
always just related positively to the word.   But I can see that some macho men might react negatively.  It also sounds a lot like "make-up."   Use it, though.  We need to get new metaphors out there.

Judith White


Most definitely they have an impact. I was just having this conversation
with a friend. I get turned off when the word "war" is used. That writing is
definitely not attractive to women.

Exercise equipment is another example. Let's see there's the thigh-master
and the thigh-blaster. Sounds like copy written by men. I was doing a
marketing plan for a company and they were thinking of naming their product (for women) saddle-blaster. Three guys loved the name.

I was editing content for a CD geared to companies who want to incorporate more effective methods for telemarketing. My client was from the UK. Throughout his entire thread, he kept using "Pretend you're a general in the military." Or "This is the best ammunition you will have." I told him that women would be offended by that and there are probably no women unless they are Israeli that can even get close to pretending to be a general in the military. He chose to ignore my recommendations; he liked the analogy. He had a money-back guarantee and because I was in the US, he used my PO Box. Guess what? The CD was returned again and again by women.

Unfortunately makeover does sound female. I like it but then I'm a female.

Karyn Zoldan


Marcia, "makeover" is an image consultant term more or less...When I have said I was an image consultant...women, more than men, have asked me "how would you make me different?"  More attractive?  More marketable?"  I think there is a negative to the term makeover and that is why I shy away from it with my clients.   I talk in words like "enhancement", others say "visual integrity" and some call themselves appearance therapists now.  So as far as using the word with Web sites,  I think it suggests that what they have wasn't very good and here comes the solution. Which you obviously do have the knowledge and credibility to present to the customers, but it still smacks of intimidation.
Mari Lyn Henry


I think of makeover as generally something women do so its feminine in that sense.  But men could sometimes use a makeover but the question is will they do it. I am curious what men say about this. Also, I don't see how any man could mistake the need for a website makeover and roll their eyes about  that.  I think your publisher's employee might have a sex addled brain and be confusing makeover and make out.

Barbara Levine


"Website Marketing Makeovers" to many men will make them think that you'll make their website "prettier". It's stupid, but unfortunately, I feel that's what most of them will think.  I don't know if "make-over" comes across as feminine, but it can come across as something superficial and not necessarily as basic  business strategy.

How about a website "rethink", "do over" or "re do"?  Or if you really need
to appeal to a male psyche, then how  about a something like "Business

American men are more "bottom line" oriented and don't want to spend a dime or change anything unless they feel it will add to it immediately and



"Makeover" does come across as feminine to me.  It's fine if women are your target audience, but if not I have to agree with the guy working for the publisher of your next book.

I can detect masculinity/femininity in writing, and sometimes (depending on my mood) both can take away from content.


Down here in New Zealand, makeover refers to a woman getting the
full beauty treatment.... it wouldn't influence me one way or the other with regard to purchasing a book.

Tony Chad


Yes, I find "makeover" feminine in tone.

I think word choice is important, and should come after the writer has really defined their one particular audience. Wonder who primarily is your audience?

Judy Cullins


>For you, does the word 'makeover' come across as feminine? <

Yep, and I'll assume it has to do with seeing the word often on the covers of women's magazines plus hearing it in connection with makeovers of women's appearances on TV talk shows. The word doesn't show up much any more in connection with some older associations such as remaking a page layout for a publication--or even revising the graphic style of a periodical.

Jim Saelzler


As an avid reader on a broad range of topics, I often try to discern whether the author is female or male.  And, when reading a piece written by either gender, I attempt to discern whether there are differences in word choices.  I think that many people do this, even if it's a subconscious exercise.

The term "makeover" in the context of your book title, is, I believe, appealing to both gender-types.  Good luck with your new book!

M. Thessen

P.S.  Can you determine my gender by my response?


Hi,  I am male and do quite a bit of web work.  I didn't think anything but
web "make overs” as I am doing that all the time.  I make something, then
have to make it over again!



Typing in "makeover" at Alta Vista returned this use of the word:

Punter change caps special-team makeover
so not everyone thinks of makeover as a feminine term.
And I rarely notice a gender-style in general audience business magazines
and books.

Paula Sato


Count me in the group that sees "makeover" as a feminine descriptive word. As a female who has an MBA Degree, has international business experience, and a management-level position in a large non-profit in Los Angeles, I sometimes take offense to business publications (translation, Fortune, Forbes, The Wall St. Journal, Business Week, Inc., etc.) that utilize words and descriptions that cater to men or use masculine terms. Sometimes the words or content are not appropriate or are too cutesy to be professional.

 Debbie Laskey


Strange. This is first time that I come across the word "makeover" has a sexist connotation. Change your publisher!

Warm regards from Singapore, Benny


I have to say I feel there is a cultural angle to it too. In the UK - where the biggest plus of the local culture is an unrivalled sense of humour - whether it is irony/ self-deprecating humour/ black humor/ satire - any gender specific references could be well used in a humorous way to address a broader audience. As I write this I struggle to recall an example but as soon as I do I will send it in.

Shefaly Yogendra


I agree with the description of Jay Conrad Levinson by the lady in your
article because it is exactly what I thought the first time I read one of his "Guerilla Marketing" books.  And I think the title of a book with the word "Makeover" in it denotes a feminine author.  It may be the 21st century, but women are still discriminated against in some sectors and especially in the earning sectors.  Disgusting, but true.  Hence, I assume, the eye-rolling from the male at your publisher.  Just an opinion.

Lyne Royce


I associate it with the endless parade of women wearing tacky and revealing outfits that get makeovers on shows like "Jenny Jones".

So it comes across as both feminine and negative -- but those two impressions are not related.

Ron O'Connor


In Australia the concept of a "makeover", as well as the repeated use of the word itself, have been adapted by television gardening and home renovation programmes (Oxford spelling).

Australian television programmes such as "Backyard Blitz" focus on converting disastrous landscapes and architectures into pleasant living areas. Hence, makeover may even imply dust, hammer-drills and cement around here.

Words and expressions come into vogue and go out of fashion in unending cycles. For example, the widespread use of the word "content" now annoys many people who prefer more discernment in their prose. I think this is an example of the famous "We speak English. You don't." quote in operation.

Positive and negative are really relative attributes. My own feeling is that using discretion when choosing your words and then thoughfully considering your readers are more important than your exact words. A little thoughtful effort can overcome many other communication pitfalls.

Perhaps that is why marketing is such a difficult profession. Appealing to everyone is impossible, yet you have to reach a constantly growing audience without alienating your loyal customers.

Leslie Harvey


I just met with some colleagues and one woman said she had done some "research" to title her marketing book for women.  She scanned as many women's and men's magazines as she could tolerate.  She said the number one word/phrase that came up on almost every women's magazine was "make over".  She said the number one word/phrase that came up on almost every men's magazine was "sex".

She's decided to title her marketing book for women, "Marketing Make Over".  I joked that to win over the entire reading population we should write a book entitled, "Sex Make Over".
Mary Sandro


Re: The word  'makeover'. I don't consider this a gender word like the use
of such words in romance languages. To react and call this word feminine and 'non-macho' seems a bit bizarre. Outside of the 'governing Texas in-crowd', I don't think that homophobia has a place in the 21st century. Although, if you consider the direction ''w'all" heading today, marketing new ideas and concepts (including 'makeovers') might be suspect... I wonder about the publisher's rep who questioned your new book title...

Ira Goldman


As an avid reader and collector of tips from the "Marketing Minute," I'm
surprised that you didn't recognize the insight of the two examples you've
given in this week's column.  I have to assume you didn't since you are
conducting the survey.  I didn't recognize it either until you pointed it
out and when I step back to examine them, the "male" reference, "Guerilla
Marketing" excites me and the "female" reference "Marketing Makeover" bores me. On the other hand, I've been told (more than once) that I'm not the
typical male consumer.  You're the expert. . . . . . .

Scott Bosman


You must change the name of this book or you will miss an entire audience of men who will think make-up and color me beautiful, never realizing what they have missed with your exceptional ideas and marketing savvy.

Jane Ambrose


Since you asked: For you, does the word 'makeover' come across as feminine?  I'm not sure it would appeal to me not  because I am a man and I think the word is feminine but more because I am not sure what 'makeover' means. 'Design' seems to be feminine word also but a book with a title, "Website Design That Makes Customers Buy," would appeal to me more because I know what the bottom line is.

If so, do you consider that positive or negative? Words that have a gender affiliation can be positive if you consider how you are using them and for what segment of the market you are targeting. "Bruising, Hairy Knuckle Marketing for Small Business," is a book title that will not be popular with women.  Likewise, "The Fancy, Frilly Marketing Touch," is not going to be a book men will rush out to buy.

When you read marketing copy, business magazines and books, do you ever find the writing (rather than the content) masculine or feminine?
Yes, absolutely.  I saw an ad in the paper that read, "Remove Unsightly Hair," but there was a picture of a man AND woman in swim suits.  Who has more unsightly hair? men or women?  I think it was addressed to men
but there could be another ad for women that could have read, "Smoother skin for summer fun," or "Show off your smooth skin this Summer."  This makes me think that a man must have written that ad.  I don't think men are there yet.  Look at the sports section in any newspaper.  They are geared to men.  Don't women have an interest in sports?  You wouldn't think so by reading the paper.

Jose Dominguez


A) Yes, I find the word "makeover" slightly feminine, but no, it's not a
negative connotation in that context.

Which leads to B) I almost never notice any gender (should be "sexual"
orientation, as strictly speaking, gender only refers to nouns, not people)
orientation, which probably means it has a masculine orientation since I'd
probably notice a feminine orientation.

I don't believe most writing today has too much gender orientation, but
with the appropriate product, it almost becomes necessary.  Auto repair
tools "ought" to have a masculine orientation, or it will leave most of the
potential buyers cold.

Jim Edholm


I don't see most writing as gender cued. You can't tell whether the author is a man or woman most of the time, even in fiction. But the reader's perception can be important. How many men read mysteries by women, signed with initials, thinking the writer is male; or women read romances signed by "Henrietta" when really written by "Henry"? I've used "John" instead of "Joan" on an article when necessary.



Marcia, I'm used to the word "makeover" .... newsletter makeovers, graphic makeovers, etc., etc., ... but then I'm a woman!

Margaret Robinson, CPS


Marcia - I don't find the word makeover the least bit feminine in relation to
your title.  This guy must have his mind on other things besides websites.

Diane DeSantis


RE the word is probably a feminine word (makeup, hairdos,
clothes style, etc), but more importantly in my opinion, the word is boring......why not  Web Site Pizzazz or a word that means something far more effective and exciting?

I, too, am struggling with a title that interests women without dis-interesting men. It is tough. I never even cared to look at the book called Guerilla Marketing, not feeling in tune with such an approach at all.



"Makeover" does sound sort of feminine to me -- "reengineering" sounds
masculine -- how about "spruce up"  -- "tune up" ??

Jean D. Sifleet


The word does carry a feminine characteristic. Mostly where I have seen it in action lately is on HGTV when referring to redecorating, remodeling rooms. And more specifically, I can tell by the commentators and show's copy that its targeted audience is female. When reading Guerilla Marketing the war metaphor was clear to me just as a ball game would have been, but the men I know think makeovers are their frivolous ladies' afternoons at the salon. Sorry that I cannot think of such gender examples in the marketing materials I have read lately.  

Georgiana Bircher


The current [May 14] issue of The Industry Standard magazine has a cover story: "THE MAKE OVER: Can an ailing dot-com reinvent itself? Ask Jeeves."  

Mike Harris


Methinks your publisher is making much ado about nothing. I'd read it as a book about doing a "makeover" of design and content-just as in newspaper or magazine editing involve a "makeover" of the layout and lead feature to happen when fast breaking news events requires a change.  Then they have to "strike" what was setup to do a "makeover" before going to press.

John F. Harnish


When you  read marketing copy, business magazines and books, do you
ever find the writing (rather than the content) masculine or  feminine?  YES



The Upshot

My publisher told me the sales reps (who persuade bookstores to carry their books) liked the title as is.  So we kept it.

Copyright 2001 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.


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