Getting Lewd for Leads: Should You Use Profanity in Marketing?
Updated: Jul 26, 2019
Profanity. Potty talk. Swearing. Cussing. Cursing.
No matter what you call it, “bad language” seems to be en vogue now more than ever. Words once reserved for hockey rinks and honky-tonks now readily appear in all kinds of unlikely places.
From food blogs to superhero movies, and even all the way to the White House, profanity is becoming mainstream. And, except for occasions when the obscenities are racist or derogatory, this potty-talk is often well received.
But should you use profanity in marketing?
Let’s take a look.
Has Cussing Become the Norm?
It seems that in today’s society, offensive language is, well, not so offensive anymore.
Think about it:
Thug Kitchen’s Cookbook has sold over 750,000 copies—complete with the mother of all curse words plastered across its cover. Plus, it’s been firmly planted in the top-10-list of best-selling cookbooks since its debut in 2014.
The first Deadpool movie slayed at the box office becoming the highest-grossing R-rated film in THE WORLD. And it “received an ‘A’ CinemaScore from all age groups [in the U.S.] And 92% said they would recommend it to a friend,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Donald Trump grabbed, um… the presidency despite his “locker room talk.” So, at worst, lewd language isn’t the deal breaker it once was. And at best, it seems to have a strangely magnetic appeal.
So, here’s the question: with this uptick in potty talk’s popularity, could going “Deadpool” on your content actually make good business sense?
Before you can answer that, though, you’ll need to explore some of the psychology behind successful swearing.
Why Profanity in Marketing Works for Thug Kitchen
F-bombs aren’t exactly a staple of most food blogs, but they work like gangbusters for Thug Kitchen.
Simple — foul language, unlike polite language, is housed in what neuroscientists call our lizard brain — the part of the brain that’s responsible for triggering most of our emotions.
So, when we hear or read out-of-place profanity, our emotional response center lights up, disrupts our normal thought patterns, and jolts us to attention. Which is a great way to drive home a point.
Richard Pryor, a rather risqué comedian in his time, put it like this:
And that’s exactly why Thug Kitchen uses extreme profanity in marketing and their products. They disrupt the norm and bring attention to something important — healthy eating — while still being humorous.
Check out their tagline:
We’re the only website dedicated to verbally abusing you into a healthier diet.
They go on to say:
We hope readers reconsider what kind of behaviors they attribute to people who try to eat healthy. Everyone deserves to feel a part of our push toward a healthier diet, not just people with disposable incomes who speak a certain way.
And then they say lots of naughty words as they describe what their website is all about and tell you how to make roasted tomato soup.
Cussing in Content Marketing: Why It Works for Ash Ambirge
Thug Kitchen isn’t the only hardcore swearer in the blogosphere that has been wildly successful with this tactic.
Brassy business woman and blogger, Ash Ambirge, of The Middle Finger Project, also uses heavy expletives to cut through the noise and get a laugh from her audience — an audience whom she describes as “babes with balls.”
Surprised that explicit language works so well for a blog that caters exclusively to women?
A new study shows that today's ladies love their swear words and say them just as much as men do, maybe even more.
According to Lancaster University and the Cambridge University Press:
Women use the F-word more than men
Over the past two decades, women’s use of the F-word has increased by more than 500%
Women are also ten times as likely as men to say ‘sh*t’
Why the uptick?
Because swearing has been shown to help form social bonds and build trust.
Which might also explain why politicians are using more profanity when speaking to small-town crowds and why this teeshirt is making sales:
But Is Profanity Right for Your Brand?
So, could saltier blog posts and edgier marketing content increase traffic and help you get leads?
The answer, as with most things in life, is: It depends.
It depends on who your target market is and what they like — and don’t like — to see from brands like yours. Here are a few pros and cons to consider before trying cussing out for your brand.
Pros of Profanity in Marketing
Using cussing in content can:
Add an element of surprise to your writing
Make your readers laugh
Highlight an edgier brand voice and personality
Boost engagement and social shares of content
Add passion to content
Cons of Profanity in Marketing
Using cussing in content can:
Cause readers to unsubscribe/unfollow you on social media
Make your brand look crass
Lessen social shares
Make you have to defend your brand and your company’s reputation
When Getting Lewd for Leads Doesn't Make Sense
IF, like the creators of Thug Kitchen, swearing comes naturally to you and your audience is cool with it, then cussing can be used like any other tool in your marketing toolkit.
But cussing doesn’t work if you're a Pioneer Woman in a Thug Kitchen world.
Because nobody wants Ree Drummond to talk dirty. (And she wouldn’t have to even if they did. Just look at all the comments on her extremely clean blog posts!)
Cussing isn’t her brand because it’s not part of her personality. And if she let out a string of profanity it would feel anything but authentic.
So if you felt horrified as you read about all the successful swearing going on in the world (or if you know your best customers would be appalled), then profanity in marketing isn’t right for you. No need to try it or test it out. It's just not worth the risk.
But if you read this post and felt like it was strangely lacking in profanity for an article about swearing — and you wished it would have been at least a little bit saltier — then maybe it is time you got lewd for leads.
What Are Your Thoughts About the Uptick of Swearing in Marketing Messages? Share in the Comments Below.