The Power of Profanity

All over the world, people rely on swearing to convey deep emotions.

From anger and excitement to honesty and sadness, profanities are a powerful way of eliciting reactions and attracting attention. It’s no surprise, then, that the braver brands out there are willing to risk using profanity in their content in a bid to connect with their audiences.

History and psychology of swearing

Use of the infamous ‘f word’ was recorded as early as the 16th century, with a whole host of colourful language slowly but surely seeping into our vernacular ever since. While the use of and attitudes towards swear words have become more relaxed in the 21st century, profanities continue to elicit powerful reactions.

Dr David Stillwell, a lecturer in Big Data Analytics at the University of Cambridge and a co-author on a paper entitled ‘Frankly, we do give a damn: The relationship between profanity and honesty’ states “The relationship between profanity and dishonesty is a tricky one. Swearing is often inappropriate but it can also be evidence that someone is telling you their honest opinion. Just as they aren’t filtering their language to be more palatable, they’re also not filtering their views.”

Why swearing turns heads in content marketing

Below are some of the key factors that convince marketers to incorporate profane language in marketing copy:

1. Swear words signal authenticity

As highlighted by Dr David Stillwell, swearing can serve as evidence that someone is being honest with you. This concept carries over nicely into content marketing, where forging genuine relationships with audiences and creating honest dialogue with them is highly prized.

2. Swearing creates surprise

Swear words are unexpected in marketing; they’re seldom used for fear of alienating audiences. So when a plucky brand opts to get innovative and include swear words in their marketing content, they’re sure to get attention.

3. Swear words imply confidence

Committing to the use of profanities in marketing content requires guts – it is definitely not for the faint hearted. Brands that take the leap of faith are often perceived as confident and self-assured, muscling above the competition in the ‘we got this’ stakes.

Brands who swear in all the right ways

Sure, swear words can make a brand appear confident and in control, honest and innovative, but only if they used the right swear word, in the right way, at the right time. A number of brands have dared to swear in their advertisements and are reaping the benefits as a result. Let’s take a look at how they made it work for them:

DollarShaveClub

Perhaps one of the most successful uses of a swear word in recent times is that of DollarShaveClub’s tagline ‘Our blades our f+++ing great’. Through use of relatable language and funny, off-the-wall video content, the company has managed to pitch themselves as a brand you want to be friends with. Take a look at their first advertisement:

The video whipped up a storm online, gathering almost 5m views within three months of it being uploaded in March 2012, and now stands at an incredible 16m.

The takeaway: Consider the interests and average age of your audience. DollarShaveClub thought about what would make their target audience tick, and came up with the goods. But if your brand is looking to attract pre-teens, swearing is definitely not a good idea – we’re pretty sure parents don’t generally enjoy their children repeating sweary taglines.

AirAsia

Another strong example of how to swear effectively in marketing content, AirAsia casually drop an implicit f-bomb in their memorable line ‘Cheap enough to say Phuket, I’ll go.’

Printed in white against the company’s signature red background, the visuals are eye-catching and the tagline simply rolls off the tongue. We also particularly like the clever use of double entendre ‘Phuket’.

The takeaway: This is a great example of the importance of the ‘less is more’ mantra when using profane language. If you throw swears around as if they’re about to self-implode, chances are both the relatability and surprise elements become diluted.

When harnessed correctly, the power of profanities can have a truly positive impact on your brand, helping you to communicate to your audience on a level they can relate to. Used without due care however, and you risk alienating your audience altogether. So before dropping a swear word into the mix, take the time to consider what works best for your brand.


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