How the language of investing could be dividing men and women

Thursday, May 10 2018 by
How the language of investing could be dividing men and women

Back in 1982 - nearly 100 years after launching Coke - Coca-Cola introduced a sugar free version of its iconic soft drink. Diet Coke went on to be a massive hit, especially with women. But that was no accident. Coca-Cola had purposely thrown its marketing expertise into a drink that would appeal to females.

In some ways it’s hard not to be impressed by the lengths that Coca-Cola went to. Over the years it even hired fashion designers like Jean Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld and Marc Jacobs to design Diet Coke bottles and cans.

But while the company had no problem selling its new drink to women, there was a problem. While everyone could see that low sugar was a good thing, men didn’t buy Diet Coke anywhere near as much as Coca-Cola wanted or expected. It only solved this problem 23 years later, when in 2005 it launched another sugar free drink. This time it was called Coke Zero.

Apart from a few tweaks to the recipe, Diet Coke and Coke Zero are basically the same thing. The real difference is that Coke Zero is marketed at men, and for that reason it’s been a success... fact Coke Zero was Coca-Cola’s most successful new drink since the launch of - you guessed it - Diet Coke.

Marketing professionals usually know exactly how to play on the emotions of men and women. But what Coca-Cola showed in more than two decades between launching its two low-calorie Cokes, was how messaging can alienate an entire gender even if the product is a universal one.

Mixed messages in the world of investing

Fizzy drinks aren’t the only thing that polarise men and women. There’s evidence that we also respond differently to the kinds of imagery, metaphors and messaging that we see in the financial press and stock market commentary.

For example, have you ever thought about the term Build a portfolio? Or perhaps Beat the market? Or how about that investors are regularly drilled on Strategy, Discipline, Tactics, Competition, Gambling, Superior Performance and so on?

Research in recent years suggests that these conceptual metaphors often rely on imagery that subconsciously appeals to men, but can actually alienate women.

As such, male-oriented metaphors could conceivably be part of the reason why women aren’t as active in investing as men, and why men tend to overtrade (and actually see lower…

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40 Comments on this Article show/hide all

sharmvr 11th May '18 21 of 40

In reply to post #362823

You mean you are not impressed by him being shirtless? Maybe if he got the diet Coke guy from way back (shirtless builder on scaffolding with the six-pack, like all builders have!) :)
IMO sex sells, no matter which sex you are selling to

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Joy Woodstock 11th May '18 22 of 40

In reply to post #363079

I don't have an issue with Robbie being shirtless, sharmvr, nor is it a problem he is shirtless without a six pack. It is the busty seductive smiling woman leaning over him that put me off. I can understand how some booksellers put it in the 'adult reading' section. That's hilarious Felicity. wonder what the person who decided to place it there thought Spread Betting was really about?

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Joy Woodstock 11th May '18 23 of 40

In reply to post #363071

Pleased to hear your publisher has had a re-think Robbie! I guess being called the Naked Trader would invite you to be shirtless on the cover, if you were going to be literal about it, (no mention though of naked trader plus sexy half dressed woman in your title - if we are being literal). I don't think the marketing people behind Jamie Oliver, and his Naked Chef books, ever decided he needed to be shirtless to sell his many millions of books though, sometimes just charm and good information, and talent is all you need.

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sharmvr 11th May '18 24 of 40

In reply to post #363115

Hi Joy,
I was just being facetious, not making any judgements - no offence intended and sincerely hope none taken.
I would like a six-pack for myself too!

Take care

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Robbie Burns 11th May '18 25 of 40

I have got a six pack..

Of Twixes

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Joy Woodstock 11th May '18 26 of 40

In reply to post #363123

No offence take Sharmvr. Six packs aren't all they're cracked up to be if memory serves.

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sharmvr 11th May '18 27 of 40

In reply to post #363131

Wouldn't know, never had one! Maybe a four pack in my younger days if I stretched and twisted!

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Randval 11th May '18 28 of 40

In reply to post #362568

Profile: This space is reserved for DMS to introduce himself.

DMS; Could you please fill in your Profile. I will then be less confused about your gender identity.

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Amanda Heron 12th May '18 29 of 40

Interesting article Ben. It never really occurred to me that the imagery and wording of the Investment World is geared to the male psyche. I really enjoy the whole investing thing; the sniffing out of the next best stock; the truffling around for the best quality; the shopping for it; the excitement as it rises and then the disappointment as it falls. Happy days!

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snickers 12th May '18 30 of 40

I spent the morning picking stocks. Then I came in from the garden, stuck them in a vase, and logged on to the internet. Can you imagine how off putting it was when I discovered that the firm I had short sold had both tanked, and bombed? It's the sort of winner-take-all violence that a sensible person wants to avoid. So I met a friend and we had a chat about how inclusive the sharing economy is going to be.
Feeling much more positive I logged on again - big mistake! My biggest investment had suffered a hostile takeover and had rocketed, shot up, and punched the lights out. Awful!

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Richard Goodwin 12th May '18 31 of 40

In reply to post #363223

Sorry. I down voted you by accident. Thanks for your contribution.

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Graham Ford 12th May '18 32 of 40

The business world is infested with jargon that may or may not be off putting to anyone. That said, a fair amount of it relates to competition between companies and so it is fairly natural to talk in terms that spill over into the sort of words that are also used in war situations.

When it comes to private investing you aren’t in competition with other PIs unless you want to look at it that way, some do some don’t. You may feel you are in competition with a relevant index in the sense of why bother if you cannot beat the index. The point is that as a PI you can just ignore all the comments and talk of competitiveness if it doesn’t suit you.

It’s worth remembering that while a wide generalisation of a slight tendency for one sex to prefer or be better at something than the other may be true, down at the individual level it often becomes a poor predictor. e.g. if you want to pick a fund manager between a choice of two their track record is probably more likely to be a good predictor of their future success than their gender.

With the Coke example, to whom is a diet drink (remembering that this was very early days of these types of drinks) going to appeal given that the title includes the word diet? The answer surely must be people who are on diets or thinking about trying to lose weight, and back in those days (a long time ago now) that grouping of consumers was mainly women. It wasn’t some highly subtle, subliminal marketing strategy.

Taking that back to the world of finance, would you put money in a fund investing in global equities called Nest Egg Global fund? If you knew very little about investing you might because the only info you have to go on is those words. It is no surprise that the government decided to use a name for the auto enrolled workplace pension that abbreviates to NEST. And I imagine that the word nest is appealing to both genders.

But once we get past the superficial to look at investing in more depth then the influence of these words will be less important.

I suspect that the likelihood of women being involved in investing is far more likely to correlate strongly with (a) did their mother do it (b) do their friends do it (c) is their partner poor at it so they have to (d) have they enough money to do it (e) do they have time to do it, than whether or not the language of finance is biased slightly towards imagery that may appeal slightly more to men.

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Amanda Heron 12th May '18 33 of 40

I think it's more to do with interest than anything.  My family are not in the investment world and their eyes glaze over when I mention the magic word 'Stocks".  What got me into investing?

An article in the paper, which included a mention of Stockopedia, was the trigger for me.

I then watched Ed's YouTube presentations and really liked his approach and his enthusiasm, took out a subscription and was hooked. Reading books recommended on the Stocko discussion streams, i.e., Graham;Minnervini; O'Neil; Robbie Burns; O'Shaughnessy; Jesse Stine, etc, and watching YouTube videos, particularly Stockgoodies Chart School, to learn all about technical analysis.  Endlessly patient and you can watch them as many times until it sinks in. 

Above all it has been learning from Stocko and the discussion boards as well as Paul and Graham. 

Also, having a Fantasy Portfolio to trade pretend stocks is a huge learning curve and, once I managed to curb my enthusiasm and put various theories into play and it started to make pretend money, I then started up with real money, a different mental change when it became reality.  This all takes time - perhaps I come in at (e) on Graham's analysis.  If you're interested in something, you make time.

What is stopping more women investing?  Maybe it's confidence and knowledge.  I think once these happen, they'll be totally enthusiastic.   

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Andrew L 12th May '18 34 of 40

I'm not really sure what I think about this article. Isn't it patronizing to women to say we need certain words so that they feel welcome. It also seems ok to say "women are better investors" but if we said the opposite that would be sexist etc. The article seems to be suggesting that we need to invent a whole new language about investing to entice women. However, investing isn't about fast cars it is just about investing. The language of investing is just our language.

I think this article is some what misguided. What people need from every background is to feel like they can succeed and that there are role models etc. Becoming ultra politically correct about things is just bonkers. Do we have a round panel investment discussion and say "we can't use these investing words there are women present?"

I don't think most women want to be treated like they are snowflakes.

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JohnEustace 13th May '18 35 of 40

As it's the weekend, I think this video sums things up nicely.

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shipoffrogs 13th May '18 36 of 40

In reply to post #363391

Absolutely brilliant John.

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timarr 13th May '18 37 of 40

In reply to post #363391

Great video :)

There's a classic piece of research that has baby boys and girls dressed randomly in blue or pink. A bunch of (one hopes) carefully selected adults are let loose with them and videoed. The adults are then asked if they treat baby boys or girls differently - and to a man and woman they insist they don't. They're then shown the video - the "boys" are thrown about, bounced around and engaged in physical activities, the "girls" are discouraged from rough play and are interacted with in a much more reciprocal and thoughtful way.

That's at a few months old - imagine what impact that has over the course of the next few years?

The point is that gender differences are as likely to be learned as to be in-built. And much of the differences in investing behaviour and, in particular, risk taking behaviour are likely to stem from that very early life training.  On top of that women generally earn less than men (even when doing the same job) and have less disposable income - so it's perhaps unsurprising that they are less likely to invest in shares.

Of course, as we know here, investing in shares for the long term is the best way to protect yourself. So anything that encourages women into investing - even if it's as superficially stupid as changing the language we use - is to be applauded. And, of course, it would make the investor events we go to a great deal less dreary ...


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Joy Woodstock 14th May '18 38 of 40

In reply to post #363391

Brought a smile to my face John, thanks for that. Thinking back, I'd always be the one who held on and went very steadily. Perhaps that translates into the way I like to run my portfolios.

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DMS 15th May '18 39 of 40

In reply to post #363147

I apologise if my opening line of "As a female investor" left you confused about my gender, just to clarify..... I am definitely a girl, hope this clears things up for you.

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DMS 15th May '18 40 of 40

In reply to post #363127

Hi Robbie, as one of the females that have attended your follow up seminars I can safely say that I love not only your books, but also all the chocolate, sweets and ice-cream... hold on a minute... maybe subconsciously that's why I came back a second time, it was all a ploy, clever you!!!!

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