How to use swear words in your fucking marketing
I tend to use swear words quite liberally (though I hope not gratuitously) in Velocity’s own marketing; but I very rarely recommend it for client work – with maybe one or two exceptions a year.
That got me thinking:
When is it okay to use swear words in marketing and when is it not?
Putting aside knee-jerk reactions (in either direction), how might profanity work for a brand and what exactly are the penalties?
Even if you would never swear in person much less in marketing, exploring these questions might be interesting to you – because the discussion is really about the power of words, the boundaries of brand and the odd implications of taboo.
It’s also about what marketing looks like when you suspend the rules (at least as a thought experiment) – and that ought to be of interest to anyone who wants to make marketing that doesn’t shout, “MARKETING!”.
What this is not about.
Let’s start by separating out two issues that would pollute this discussion if we didn’t exclude them right up front:
The moral issue
If you feel swearing is immoral, then of course you shouldn’t do it. This post is for people who don’t feel it’s a moral issue at all, just a question of effectiveness. I’m one of these, but then I travel in some dubious circles (including Velocity Fridays at the Red Cow).
The lazy writing issue
I also want to exclude the lazy or show-offy swearing that characterises poor writing or speaking.
This kind of writing is not shitty because it uses the word shit, it’s shitty because it’s shitty.
If your argument against swearing is really about, ‘Those people who say ‘fucking’ every other word’, I agree. That fucking would fucking be fucking annoying. Worse, it’s lazy and tells your reader that you don’t care, have no talent, or both (as all lazy writing or speech does).
So, putting aside moral objections and excluding bad writing, can swearing be consciously deployed to make your marketing more effective? Is there a place for the judicious use of relevant swear words in well-crafted content?
I think there is. But not for many brands and not for many situations.
The upside: what shit and fuck can do for you.
At Velocity, we do occasionally use swear words in our blog and in our content. Okay, more than occasionally.
But people who see me as a Tourettes-addled boor might be surprised to hear that whenever I use a swear word, I do stop and think, “Do I need this or would a more mainstream word be just as good?” And, not uncommonly, I choose to stick with the ‘bad’ word. Here are some of the reasons why:
It carries the power of surprise.
Swear words are surprising in a marketing context and surprising audiences is one of our most important and toughest challenges. When people are marketed to, they put up that invisible, anti-spin force-field to resist the charms of the wicked hype-meisters (as, let’s face it, they have good reason to do). When marketing looks, smells and tastes like marketing, the force-field stays up. But when it doesn’t look, smell and taste like marketing – when it surprises – the force-field comes down and the reader leans forward just a bit. That’s good.
Of course, swearing is not the only way to surprise. But at a time when swearing still feels strange in a marketing context, it carries this power. And it’s one of the reasons that “Buy More Beef You Bastards” (by a beef promotion board in Australia) is one of my all-time favourite headlines.
It signals confidence.
Swearing in marketing is not for the timid. So swearing says, “We’re not rule-bound. We’re confident enough to break some rules and ignore taboos.”
And since confidence is one of the most important messages you can ever send to a prospect, anything that signals confidence is worth considering. (We even wrote an ebook about it called “The Other C-Word: What Makes Great Marketing Great”. In it, we argue that the best marketing in the world has only one thing in common: it’s confident).
Again, swearing is far from the only way to signal confidence. But since it’s still a rarely-used technique, it can carry this message.
It sends a signal to like-minded people.
The very willingness to swear is a signal that you’re not trying to be all things to all people. Here’s how that works for us:
As well as targeting a tight demographic (senior marketers in B2B companies) Velocity targets a very specific psychographic profile as well: confident, ambitious marketers who have enough of a power base to be change agents in their companies. These people tend to be straight-talking, unpretentious people who don’t need to play the corporate status card to be effective.
They also tend to be far less sensitive to profanity than the general population. So when we swear, we may alienate the fuck-averse, but we’re also sending out pheromones to our kind of people. And in a business that depends on close working relationships over long periods of time, this matching is hugely important.
To us, it’s not only okay to alienate people who would hate working with us – it’s an important part of our marketing strategy.
No, it’s not infallible. There are confident, ambitious marketers out there who just don’t like swearing or people who swear. We hope they’ll look past our potty mouth problem but they may not. That’s the unfortunate penalty we pay for the benefits of the pheromone thing. Is it worth it? We’ll never know. There’s no control group. But on balance it feels like a good call.
It’s signals authenticity.
We’re just sweary people. We’re not mean or crass or insensitive (I hope). Sometimes, we just swear. In our world, that’s no big deal. It feels natural.
If we lived in some other parts of the world, our swearing would mark us as rebels or angry or ‘of poor breeding’. But in our world, it doesn’t carry these connotations.
So when we write how we speak, we’re being ourselves. And that comes across.
Caveat: if you don’t swear normally, you probably shouldn’t swear in your marketing. It’s like Dad dancing. As a Dad, I can promise you: nobody wants to see that.
Precisely because these words are transitioning out of taboo, they can punch up a punchline. When they’re used out of their usual context or by someone you don’t expect to swear – kids, grannies, robots, butlers, brands – it can be inherently funny.
I think the headline to this post is kind of funny because it starts off sounding like a standard marketing blog post, then takes a turn. De-fucking the headline would make it not just less funny but not funny.
No, not all marketing needs to be funny. But some of the best is — and sometimes swearing can help.
It adds passion.
Let’s face it, ‘fucking awesome’ is more awesome than just plain ‘awesome’. Not if you use it too much, but in the right places, it can really signal unbridled enthusiasm. And unbridled enthusiasm kicks bridled enthusiasm’s ass.
It signals writing with a voice.
This is important. Most writing has no real voice. It’s just beige, neutral blather that might say interesting things but does so in very uninteresting ways. That sucks.
People love writing that has a strong voice. So swearing says to people, “You’re more likely to enjoy reading this than that boring eBook you downloaded this morning.”
If there were no downside, these benefits would add up to a pretty compelling argument – and we would all be swearing in our marketing a lot more than we do.
But of course, there is a downside.
The downside: why the fuck would you ever say fuck?
You do pay a penalty every time you use a swear word in your marketing. The only question is how big that penalty is. Here are some of the bad consequences:
You risk looking like a crass bastard.
To some people, swearing is what crass, uneducated people do. People who were raised by smokers and now own maybe more than one pit bull. If you’re okay with that, go wild.
But the key here is ‘some people’. To many others, swearing is not synonymous with crass. So you need to think about your audience: are they likely to like or respect you less if you swear? Would it be harder to build a brand if you turn them off, or would it be no big deal?
It’s almost definitely off-brand.
There aren’t many brands that can comfortably swear without breaking a brand value or two. In truth, I believe there are many more that could get away with it than that actually do it. But don’t hold your breath for “Nike. Just fucking do it.” or “McDonald’s. I’m fuckin’ lovin’ it.”
You might not get as many shares.
Even people who don’t mind swearing might not want to share your profanity-bejewelled content with their friends, followers and circles (wusses). I think some of our stuff has suffered from this – but hey, we’re still here.
You will have to defend yourself inside your company.
Most people in your company will think it’s a very bad idea to swear in your marketing. They may be wrong but you’re probably going to have to raise your head above the cubicle and spend a lot of time explaining your reasoning to them. That’s a pain in the ass and you probably have better things to do. (You could try sending them a link to this post but it won’t work: people who are determined to make marketing that looks like marketing just can’t stomach marketing that doesn’t – the best stuff, generally).
Of course, if you own (or co-own) the company, fuck ’em. And, in this case, I fucking co-own the company.
What isn’t on the list of downsides
One thing I did not put on the list of downsides is this:
It will offend people.
I actually don’t think swearing does offend people. It may alienate them but does it really cause offence? Can any adult in the Western world be offended by naughty words? If so, they probably struggle to go out in public most days.
In truth, “I’m offended by that,” usually means, “I like you less for saying that.” Which is covered by the ‘crass bastard’ point above.
If you really are offended by profanity the way, say, I’m offended by racist language. Then I guess you have the duty to speak out against me. But I may not change – the right to not be offended is not yet in any Bill of Rights that I subscribe to.
Yesterday’s fuck is tomorrow’s damn
The reason swearing carries so much power is that every swear word is somewhere on the continuum from Taboo (e.g. C*nt, the last really taboo swear word ) through Sweary (Shit and Fuck) to Weak-ass (Damn, Hell, Crap, Ass, Bastard and, arguably, Dick). (I just typed a sentence with ‘arguably, Dick’ in it. I love my job).
See the uni-directional trend here? Our swear words are all marching into the mainstream, one edgy mini-series at a time.
As a word transitions out of taboo and into the mainstream, it has unique powers that other words don’t have. If you care about words, you’re going to be tempted by that. (The words just moving into the mainstream are your sweet-spot swear words. If you’re going to swear, start with these puppies.)
This, of course, implies impact inflation. Words that used to be an 8 on the Richter Scale are now a 3. So to go to 8 you need to roll out the bigger guns. Hell just ain’t gonna cut it.
What about public speaking?
I’ve always been uncomfortable about the concept of a ‘personal brand’ but I grudgingly admit that some people do have them. Whether you swear or not — in public speaking or blogs or whatever – will come down to how you feel about yours.
Some people can pull it off in style. Can you imagine Gary Vaynerchuck or Ash Ambirge without swearing? Or George Carlin? Or Richard Pryor? (Admittedly, if you’ve been caught running down the street in the flames from your exploded crack pipe, swearing is probably not a significant threat to your personal brand).
My pal (actually everybody’s pal but my special pal) Ann Handley decided not to use a funny quote with the word ‘Fuck’ in it for a presentation at Content Marketing World last year. I urged her to go for it, which, admittedly, may have tipped the scales against. Was she just being chicken or was she being sensitive to her audience of Ann-fans? On this, I should probably defer to someone with 1.8 fazillion twitter followers and two best-selling books. But instead I will waggle my elbows and shriek, “Bgaaaawk!!!”.
In my own public speaking, I find it very hard not to swear. Maybe it’s because I get nervous. (I’d prefer to believe it’s because I get passionate about what I’m saying – but I’m a notorious self-deceiver). I also swear too much in meetings. Even I wish I didn’t. (Before meetings with some clients, one of our account directors always says to me, “Whatever you do, don’t be yourself.“)
Horses for courses on this one:
In a recent blog post, Jason Miller, (LinkedIn’s head of content marketing and author of the excellent “Welcome to the Funnel“) asks, Is it OK to Drop the F-Bomb during a Keynote? Jason used a ‘bad word’ in a speech and got a negative review (among many positive ones). He makes the point that his style is not for everyone and he’s okay with that. (But then Jason wears a wristband that says ‘WWGSD?’ for “What Would Gene Simmons Do?” so do take that into account).
On the other hand, Scott Hanselman (“speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee”) is convinced that Profanity Doesn’t Work in conferences or in any business communication. (I’m not sure which role in his bio leads most directly to this conclusion but I’m guessing it’s “Microsoft employee”).
So should you swear in your public speaking? Only if it works and it feels right.
Alternatives for when you really want to swear but just can’t bring yourself to do it.
Some people just love the idea of swearing but can’t pull the trigger. These turn out to be resourceful people, because they’ve come up with lots of clever options:
F*ck and Sh*t are just a flat-out lame options for total p*ssies. I think Louis C.K. said something like, “If you want to put the word ‘fuck’ into somebody’s head, nothing beats the word ‘fuck'”. I’m with Mr C.K. on this.
(You may have noticed that I resorted to the asterisk dodge when using the C-word a few paragraphs earlier. But that’s because my wife insisted. I argued that using a word when discussing it is surely a legitimate use. She argued that it’s often used as a sexist slur and is never okay. Who do you think is right? (Hint: It’s usually her.)).
Bastardizations like ‘Effing’, ‘Freaking’ and ‘Frigging’ have the benefit of maintaining the meter and rhythm of the word they’re replacing. But they also make you sound like someone who needs to take a pee* but hasn’t got permission. Using these replacements bring too much attention to the whole thing. Might as well skip it. (His publisher made Norman Mailer replace ‘fucking’ with ‘fugging’ throughout his novel, The Naked and the Dead. How embarrassing is that? And how weird to try to read.)
(*’pee’, of course, is a euphemism for ‘piss’ and could therefore be included in the next alternative:)
F-bomb and c-word
See F*ck and Sh*t, above.
Rhymes and homophones
Ducking. Sugar. Fudge.
See F-bomb and c-word, above. These aren’t just euphemisms, they’re babyisms.
If you say, ‘Sugar!’ when you stub your toe, you are 96 times more likely than the general population to teach Sunday school and knit covers for toilet rolls. That’s fine. You gotta be you. But do NOT expect to get laid any time soon.
(Though I love, love, love K-mart’s “Ship My Pants!” commercial. It’s funny, of course, not because it swears but because it appears to swear. But even playing with the idea of swearing in a commercial for a major brand would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. The lesson: if Kmart can do this, anybody can do this).
Go soft core
Yeah, okay – but ‘give a shit’ is way more emphatic than ‘give a damn’. There is a place for soft-core swearing but I always feel that if you’ve come so far, just gall-darn go for it. (See? A demonstration is worth a dozen bullet points).
Ask forgiveness, then swear
“Pardon my French but PowerPoint fucking sucks.” This has a weird kind of cake-and-eat-it-too appeal but I can’t seem to pull it off. I hate asking for pardon when I don’t really mean it.
Swear, then ask forgiveness
“PowerPoint fucking sucks, pardon my French.” The horse has bolted, dude. Fuck the stable door.
The bottom line:
Some of these ingenious work-arounds will indeed work some of the time. But most fall under ‘attempts to have it both ways’ and, to me, they tend to fail. If you find yourself using them, maybe it’s time to person up.
A friend asked me to think up some rough creative ideas for a new company that makes amazing speakers. He gave a me a pair to try out at home, with my own favourite music, and the first words out of my mouth were, “Holy. Fucking. Shit.”
Great headline, right?
Well, I thought so.
To me, it captures that moment when you hear music you love, played on great speakers for the first time. It’s how audiophiles really do talk to each other. It’s confident. And it’s funny – especially when there’s no other copy except for the company name (blocked out here to protect… well, me). If I saw this in a magazine, I’d call Stan over and say, “Check this out.” (How often do ads make you do that?).
Did they run it?
They did not. And I think they missed an opportunity.
A last word on Anatomy-based swear words.
Swear words that started as vulgar slang for body parts seem to have their own connotations:
‘Pussy’ or ‘twat ‘for ‘vagina’ are both ugly words when you really are referring to a vagina. But if you’re using them to refer to a wimp or a jerk, they can do the trick nicely.
‘Tits’ for ‘breasts’ is juvenile. ‘Tit’ to refer to a self-important person is funny.
‘Asshole’ for ‘anus’ is crass. ‘Asshole’ for Donald Trump is just precision.
‘Dick’ for ‘penis’ is high schooly. For any Fox TV pundit, it’s taxonomically sound.
Okay — your turn. What do you think of all this?
Do you ever swear in your company marketing?
How about your own blog posts or speaking gigs?
How do you feel when others swear in their marketing?
Was my wife right about the C-word or should I have used it without the asterisk?
Did this post make you like me less (or had you already bottomed out on that front)?
Next week: The Bodily Functions and Secretions (or maybe not)
Further Reading or Listening:
Stephen Fry’s Planet Word episode on swearing – a terrific analysis (thanks for this Irene Triendl). Love this quote:
“When uttered at the right moment, a rude word can bring an otherwise dull and lifeless sentence dramatically to life. In the distinctly un-amusing world of humour research this is known as a ‘jab line’.” Amen.
Steven Pinker’s short book, ‘The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television’ – a fun, super-smart analysis (Thanks again, Irene, for this one)
The Periodic Table of Swearing – Just plain fun
The Wikipedia entry on the word Fuck – a hoot but a scholarly hoot
Louis C.K. on using the N-word – O.M.G.
George Carlin’s 7 Dirty Words routine – the man, in a classic monologue
AnswerThePublic’s map of search questions about swearing – a really cool keyphrase tool
Words that the Advertising Standards Authority allows – and doesn’t allow (Thanks Tom Albrighton)
A wise man going through all the uses of the word ‘fuck’ – thanks for this one Bob Apollo
Uses of the Word Fuck – By Jack Wagner, the ‘Voice of Disneyland’ (Do NOT, under any circumstances, tell Goofy).
Regan | January 20th, 2015
Funniest and most entertaining blog I can remember reading, EVER!
Doug Kessler | January 20th, 2015
Thanks Regan. So will yo be using swear words in your own marketing>
Peter Dorfman | January 20th, 2015
Wow, that’s bizarre — this exact same question occurred to me about a week ago. There must be lots of brands whose most loyal followers would love to see profanity in their ads. I defy anyone who’s ever seen a CapitalOne commercial featuring Samuel L. Jackson to tell me he or she didn’t notice the absence of swearing from a spokesman who’s legendary for it.
I had all these thoughts, but I never got around to writing about this subject. I’m such an asshole.
Ann Handley | January 20th, 2015
I really appreciate the thoughtful nature of this post, Doug… which could’ve been decidedly less so. And thanks for making that correction to my dilemma. I would’ve had far less angst over “shit.”
You hit it on the head when you say “only if it feels right.” For me, it just didn’t feel right to drop the F-bomb on stage. I can’t really explain it any more than that — but I didn’t feel like I could sell it confidently. Jason Miller can. So can Erika Napoletano. So can you. But it felt discordant, coming from me.
It comes down to “feel,” really… a word you used like 400 times in this post. (Or a handful. Whatev.) For both individuals and brands. Actually, let me amend that: It comes down to feel in context. Because what works in one context (conversation with a friend) doesn’t work in another (conversation with my great aunt). Is it dishonest or inauthentic to change the way I communicate? I don’t think so — I think it’s respecting the audience according to how it feels.
Other random observations:
– I like it when companies take risks in marketing. As long as it’s not gratuitously swearing, I’m cool with it. But if everyone did it? Way too much. What makes me pay attention is that everyone *doesn’t* do it.
– I think it can help set you apart (voice and tone) on a blog like this one. It id’s your agency as edgy and a perfect fit for the right client.
– I love the concept of “de-fucking.” That’s flat-out hilarious.
– Babyisms can be equally hilarious in the right context. I have a friend who legit exclaims, “Nuts!” or “Oh, sugar!” when she stubs her toe. One of her classics is “Fudge nuggets!” said when she’s REALLY pissed off. And it’s really funny because it’s so effin (“Archaic Euphemism”) sincere.
– I agree with your wife on the C-word. Just, NO.
Steve Faber | January 20th, 2015
Fuckin’ A, Doug! You nailed it with that one. An excellent read. As a marketer, it’s up to you to decide whether or not the shock value overrides the alienation factor. Presumably, you know your audience better than anyone. If not, find a new line of work, dumbass. If more respond in your desired fashion than run screaming for the hills, congrats, you hit at least a double.
You’re right on about the continuum of swear words through time. Utter “shit” 50 years ago, and you’d get sent out of class. Now, nary an ear pricks. Speaking of pricks, that’s another word that raises few eyebrows these days, but strikes a nice balance between fucking yourself with your audience and getting your point across with special sauce.
Thanks for the post, and have a nice fucking day,
Martin Greaney | January 20th, 2015
Great food for thought! Though I disagree… Swearing never seems to carry much information (how would your heading be different if it was fucking-less, for example?). Also, there are social connotations when casually associating parts of the female anatomy with weakness, as your wife noted.
Too often swearing comes across as lazy, crass or even violent. There are always more specific, witty, creative and meaningful words to use to express (or perhaps even *prove*) passion, uniqueness, authenticity etc.
In fact, if one small group of words can express all those things at any one time, perhaps they’re not expressing any of them effectively?
Doug Kessler | January 20th, 2015
All great feedback — thanks.
Peter: That’s true of the Samuel L Jackson ads. Why hire him if you’re going to tie his hands behind his back?
Ann: All great points.I do think context is critical. Should have included that. And I don’t think it’s inauthentic to change how you speak according to who you’re speaking to or when.
I also agree that when everyone does it, swearing will completely lose its power.
But your friend who says, “Nuts” — if she REALLY stubbed her toe, I bet she lets lose with a full-fat FUCK.
Glad I dodged the C-bullet. This one is still hugely divisive. I had five people accuse me of chickening out and betraying my own principles by using the asterisk cheat.
Steve — Well summarised. I do hope marketers will know their audiences well enough to make this call. No one will ever get fired for NOT swearing in their marketing — but people should get fired for failing to engage anyone.
Martin — A LOT of people agree with you on this (far more than agree with me). But for me, there are times when the perfect word really is a swear word. I admit I use it even more than in these few cases, but when it’s perfect, nothing else will be as strong.
Yes, you could take it out of the headline and it would mean the exact same thing. But it wouldn’t be funny or make an eyebrow go up. Maybe it’s precisely the gratuitousness that is funny — because it plays against the convention of headlines.
Anyway: thanks all for effing great points. (Nope. Doesn’t do it for me).
David McGuire | January 20th, 2015
Thanks Doug; you’ve pretty much nailed what I think, and have done it in more a thoughtful, thorough and even-handed way than I would’ve managed. You bastard.
Flexing brand language depending on context (audience, yes, but other things too) isn’t necessarily inauthentic, any more than it is when we do it in life. That’s why it’s “voice and tone” not “tone of voice”. Voice is about identity, tone about application.
As for swearing being superfluous… it reminds me of Stephen Fry’s take on the matter: http://youtu.be/s_osQvkeNRM?t=1m47s
David McGuire | January 20th, 2015
Also: I love that acoustics ad. Flat-out love it.
Doug Kessler | January 21st, 2015
Thanks David. Love the Steven Fry clip — thanks for sharing that.
And totally agree on the need to change tone for contexts.
(The speakers really were that good).
Karen Marston | January 21st, 2015
I legit guffawed at ‘McDonalds. I’m fuckin’ lovin’ it.’ GUFFAWED.
Anyway, excellent stuff. Sharing.
Stefan Hull | January 21st, 2015
Great post Doug,
Swearing can be effective and it’s nice to have that out in the open. Bloody nice.
I still avoid c***s wherever possible but I thought you might enjoy this story.
I was sat next to my six-year-old son (who has never sworn) just before Christmas when we had the following, whispered conversation:
Him: Dad, I know what the bad ‘C’ word is.
Me: [heart sinking] Er, alright… What do you think the bad ‘C’ word is?
Him: It’s cramp.
Me: [heart full of love for my son and heir] It’s not son, it’s crap.
Him: [thoughtful face] Oh… right.
Him: Actually dad, it’s not crap… It’s c***.
And if that’s not the power of surprise I don’t know what is.
Doug Kessler | January 21st, 2015
Love that story, Stefan.
When my kids were really little, we used to give then a five-minute window to say whatever words they wanted to say but couldn’t normally. It was hilarious to hear what came out.
When they were really young, they might say, “Stupid! Naughty! Dirty! Mud!” — but soon it got a bit more serious…
Ryan Skinner | January 22nd, 2015
Hellafuck, Doug! You’re the content sexualizer.
Doug Kessler | January 22nd, 2015
Rats. Forgot “Hellafuck” in my analysis. The compound cuss. (Thanks Ry)
Carmen Hill | January 25th, 2015
I love this post on so many levels, Doug. I’m a bit of a profligate swearer myself, but mostly for myself (since I don’t co-own the agencies where I’ve worked). Sometimes, nothing comes close to a Bridget Jones-style “fuckety-fuck-fuck”. But as Ann notes, context—and audience—are everything. Also, it only works if you can say/write the words with complete confidence. If it’s too considered or tentative then it just seems like you’re trying too hard. The thing I like about this post, besides the fact that it makes me laugh out loud, is that it’s a great template for a perfect blog post. Irresistible headline. Subheads that tell the whole story in a nutshell. Compelling invitation to comment. Love it!
Doug Kessler | January 27th, 2015
I completely agree about the naturalness/confidence points.
I guess I’m not really saying, ‘Try swearing” — it’s more like “Try not self-censoring.”
Garry Davis | January 28th, 2015
Doug, once again i find myself doubled over in agony after reading another piece of content from VP.
Most of the angles around the content have been covered well above, personally its context every time.
On a separate note beware the periodic table speaks loudly!! It should come with a health warning.
Fortunately i’m the MD of the agency so just about got away with it.
SarahBDanks | January 29th, 2015
Dude. Funniest fucking piece of marketing I’ve ever read in my LIFE.
And, for the record, if you’re gonna go for it in a swearing post, I say remove the asterisk from the c-word. It’s a WORD. It has no power over anyone — IF YOU DON’T LET IT 🙂
Well done. Makes me wanna add “fuck” into every blog post from here on in (which my mother will H.A.T.E.).
Stan Buyermann | January 30th, 2015
Another alternative would be to use another language. Merde or sheisse when you want to say shit. Makes it somewhat of an inside joke.
Great article. I remember an English executive I worked for, saying “Fuck it, I am going to tell the customer that the results are fucking guaranteed” When asked are you really going to use the f-word to the customer?, his response was: “Don’t be a shit-head, I would not put that in the proposal”. Maybe after reading this, he will.
Jenn | October 15th, 2015
I support the use of cunt.
Personally, it’s a beautiful and powerful word with two meanings. The lovely feminine body part, and when someone is being morally abhorrent. (is it sad they mean both?)
No one expects it, and a special few love anyone for saying it. Of course, I do choose carefully when and where I use it.
Matthew Hunt (.com) does an almost too extensive, but informative cultural history on cunt. Worth a peek.
Twat and pussy are more sexist when used as a way to describe someone as a wuss. It’s like saying “quit being a girl about it.”
LOVE that you said “person up.”
Doug Kessler | November 9th, 2015
Thanks Jenn! You’ve steeled my nerve. I’ll person up.
Kate Van der Borgh | CopyCon rambles #2: I swear, by the moon and the stars… | November 5th, 2015
[…] I highly recommend Doug’s blog on the subject. Not interested? Well, you go fudge […]
Brenda | September 30th, 2016
The short answer to the public speaking conundrum: If you do NOT know your audience, NEVER swear. If you do know your audience, then let that be your guide. Unless of course you’re doing a gig at some Laugh Stop (or the like) where swearing is the accepted norm, go for it.
Steve, Interesting Shit | October 14th, 2016
I love the post and your seven reasons to use swear words.
1 – It carries the power of surprise.
2 – It signals confidence.
3 – It sends a signal to like-minded people.
4 – It’s signals authenticity.
5 – It’s funny.
6 – It adds passion.
7 – It signals writing with a voice.
These are all things we tried to convey in our brand at http://www.interestingshit.com … I am going to use this article to provoke discussion around this subject. Thanks for writing it!
Doug Kessler | October 25th, 2016
Thanks Steve — cool name for a site!
John Thomas, Accusoft | December 2nd, 2016
Saw you present your F*CKING marketing presentation at INBOUND 2016. Loved it. Keep waiting for HubSpot to finally release the video.
Doug Kessler | December 8th, 2016
Thanks John! Let me know if they do…
Ashleigh, Boomebox Recruitment | January 11th, 2017
OH MY FUCKING GOD I LOVE THIS POST.
I work in recruitment and hear swearing a lot and today used it in a marketing campaign (the word was shitty) and I personally loved my ad but it wasn’t accepted with enthusiasm from everyone. Your pro-swearing points were exactly what I was thinking when I did the campaign.
PS your wife is right 😛
Doug Kessler | January 22nd, 2017
Thanks Ashleigh. Did your recruitment ad attract some good candidates?
Michael LaRocca, Michael Edits | March 8th, 2017
I like the example of Princess Bride. Ninety minutes, one swear word. Talk about maximum impact. “I want my father back, you son of a bitch.” It jumps out because we haven’t been inured to it, which is exactly what swear words are meant to do.
Michael LaRocca, Michael Edits | March 8th, 2017
Well, sometimes. Other times, fuck it.
Doug Kessler | March 28th, 2017
Agreed. Over-use kills the effect. Although some comedians use overuse AS the effect – that can work too.
And I LOVE Princess Bride.
Jen | May 4th, 2017
I’m on the fence about using helluva in a job ad- as in come work for my company that makes a helluva good product. It’s a confidential job ad. Getting peoples attention these days is a fucking issue. None of my managers realize it, they think I just don’t pluck the right people off of the personnel tree in the front yard.
Doug Kessler | May 5th, 2017
Why on the fence? That’s not even full-fat swear word!
Go for it.
JEn | May 4th, 2017
Damn! Exactly my thoughts.
Doug Kessler | May 5th, 2017
Love it when that happens.
Guus Pijnenburg, P 2 Teksten/Taalbeest | June 14th, 2017
Thanks, bang on. I’m writing for the clients of an Ice-queen: who lives in pensions world. Her clients never listen, she wonders why them boys don’t drool. For her it’s an unfair battle, but she”ll never, ever, budgde or bent over. What a pity spinster she’s destined to be. Than’ks for the inspiration to charge at this old maid relentlessly.
Doug Kessler | June 24th, 2017
Guus, I’m not sure you meant this to come out as. aggressive as it sounds.
Kind of scared me, if I’m honest.
(Maybe it’s a Dutch-English thing though)…
Clive, DETONATION CREATIVE LTD | July 31st, 2017
Excellent article. I read this and it perfectly articulates the pros and cons of a dilemma I have….
We market a range of GPS trackers, and a new subset of these are battery powered devices that only really “locate” your stuff…. So I want to launch these using the product name “Fugisit”. As in… “Where the…?”
Believe it or not, I actually have to explain the humour to most potential customers…..
So the question is, would a middle aged bloke who is tired of having his sh1t stolen be offended by the product name “Fugisit”, considering that when his stuff is gone, he probably walkd over to where it was, and mumbles “Fugisit?”.
Your thoughts please?
Doug Kessler | August 2nd, 2017
I like the idea of the name a lot.
But the name itself is tricky because I wouldn’t know how to pronounce it right away if I read it (especially without the context).
I remember an old comedy sketch (or was it just a racist joke?) where an Indian tribe was called the Fukawe. They were always lost. (They have the same problem as Fugisit — great when you hear it, tough when you write it).
I do like the thinking though. And I think it would be worth alienating a few for a name that would resonate with your core audience.
You also chose Fug instead of Fuckisit or Fukisit. Norman Mailer did the same in his novel The Naked and the Dead. Everything was ‘fug this’, ‘fug that’.
When he was introduced to Dorothy Parker at a party she reportedly said, “So you’re the man who can’t spell Fuck’.
I still like your approach.
If I’m being pedantic (and I am, I am), I might ask why name the product after the problem instead of the solution. There are probably lots of names that do this but I can’t think of any right now. (‘Goddamn Bugs Pro Extreme’?). (‘Ouch, Ouch, Ouch’ hemorrhoid cream?).
How about FoundTheFucker.
Or just Homer. The tag that brings your stuff home.
Michael LaRocca, Michael Edits | June 16th, 2018
What happens when a teacher at a university in China is allowed to create his own curriculum? If the teacher is me, the students get to hear “Uses of the Word Fuck – By Jack Wagner.” Well, not all of it. They laughed so much that they could only hear half the words. I figured I’d just inoculate them and get it over with. It worked.
Doug Kessler | July 19th, 2018
Fantastic. You must video their response next time!
Ryan shivdasani, The merrymaker’s Orchestrina | August 17th, 2019
I’m with you 110% on all these great points. But I already was before reading this article… do you know if there’s a way to by with promoting videos with cuss words written into the dialogue on Instagram? Is there any way around it? We make funny/cool videos for our band and an occasional cuss really fits well. I don’t feel it’s gratuitous or lazy, but rather quite effective and funny. It does fit our ‘brand’ as well as we’re kind of an edgy rock band. We’re actually damn damn good musicians who have a hard enough time navigating our way through an industry that really exists because of players like us, and we feel that we should be able to use any marketing ploy we can to get ourselves out there as we are completely hindered as professional musicians from making a living or succeeding by the marketing side of music, which doesn’t cater to actual musicians or artists at all. It’s fucking shit to say the least, and we’re actually quite innovative, thoughtful, skilled, intelligent and creative and deserve a god damn break.
I think the answer is that I’d have to use lame substitutes like sh*t or f*ck which really hurt the effectiveness of the ideas. Please let me know what the specific rules might be. I actually don’t mind misspelling them (fukking) because phenetically it’s the same thing. My friends often even text that way anyway cuz it’s kinda funny.. but do they stop that as well?
I don’t want to test it by posting crap that I can’t promote and then reposting it in way that I can.. I’d rather just know what the exact regulations are and wether or not it’s possible to get around them.
Doug Kessler | September 13th, 2019
I actually don’t know the rules of each social platform but think swearing is okay on most (LinkedIn is quite conservative on this but I don’t imagine you’re using that). I prefer “fucking” to “f*cking” or “fukking” but the last one can be a fun spin.
Atanas Dzhingarov | June 23rd, 2020
I doubt I can say anything that hasn’t already been said, but I would also like to extend my congratulations. The article was well-structured, well-argued, and funny as hell. A pleasant read, through and through.
Doug Kessler | September 28th, 2020
Pavel Soukenik, RWS Moravia | August 11th, 2020
I was waiting for a mention of the famous FCK ad for KFC, especially after you mentioned McDonald’s. It can’t be generalized, but it wonderfully illustrates your other points (funny, unexpected, lowering forcefield) while using a weakened workaround without it feeling like they chickened out. (Pun fully intended.)
Doug Kessler | September 28th, 2020
Yeah, a great example. I use it in my talk on the subject.
Though I’ve stopped collecting examples unless they’re really good: swearing is going mainstream fast!
Hannah Bella Bowden, HBBDesigns | August 9th, 2021
Doug! You bloody legend. As a designer of text-based ‘swearrings’ that say things like
FUCK YEAH and SMUG CUNT ( it does actually have some positive connotations, in Australia…) this article has been most helpful! Thank you!
When the F*ck to use Profanity in Digital Marketing – Transcendant Marketing Feed | April 28th, 2022
[…] Profanity can be divisive. These words can hurt, offend, or be used to express anguish and frustration. However, this often provocative language can be harnessed and used effectively and creatively in digital marketing with …. […]
Lise | February 21st, 2023
Dr Brian Neil Talarico, North Bay Psychiatrist brutally abuses his power, he brutally beat my girlfriend to the floor. it was a retaliation. my bestie had reported talarico for woman beating, child molestation, harassment, and predatory stalking. he does nothing but constantly physically abuse, threaten and stalk her, police catch and release… violent harassment continues.