Gettin’ Lewd for Leads: Should You Use Profanity in Marketing?

profanity in marketingProfanity. 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.

Yep, 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.

Don’t agree?

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 truly answer that, though, you’ll need to explore some of the psychology behind successful swearing.

Why Profanity in Marketing Works for Thug Kitchen

Thug Kitchen found a way to be helpful and hilarious at the same time — peppering delicious recipes with copious swear words.

F-bombs aren’t exactly a staple of most food blogs, but they work like gangbusters for Thug Kitchen.

Why? 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.”

Check out this blurb from her website:

Professional writer, business woman, smart ass, and founder of the unconventional lifestyle and career website, The Middle Finger Project, Ash Ambirge is on an international mission to help the lost, the confused, the disillusioned and the “how the hell did I become an administrative assistants?” of the world become more unf*ckwithable in their work — and lives — by learning how to trust themselves unflinchingly and build a unique, modern, gloriously independent career using that great, big, free thing we call The Internet.

Wait… Women Like Cussing Too? Duh.

Maybe you’re a bit surprised that explicit language works so well for Ash’s blog since her site caters largely to women.

But 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’

But that’s not all that surprising since swearing has been shown to help form social bonds and build trust.

Because, well, swearing a little actually makes you seem more human and relatable.

But Is Profanity Right for Your Brand?

So, could saltier blog posts and edgier marketing content increase traffic and help you get leads? Maybe.

It all 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:

  • Offend readers
  • 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

Gettin’ Lewd for Leads? Maybe

Profanity won’t work for everyone. Case in point? Pioneer Women’s conservative brand.

Keep in mind that cussing doesn’t work if you’re a Pioneer Woman in a Thug Kitchen world.

Why? 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. It’s not her personality. And if she let out a string of profanity it would feel anything but authentic.

But Thug Kitchen on the other hand, has created a successfully edgy brand that uses cussing in a way that resonates incredibly well with their target market.

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 going to work for you.

But if you read this post and thought, “f*$# yeah!” — then maybe it is time you got straight lewd for leads.

Will you use profanity in marketing for your business? 

About the Author

Holly Hughes-Barnes

Holly Hughes-Barnes creates the magnetic stories marketers crave to power their content marketing strategy -- when they don’t have the time or bandwidth to do it in-house. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.

Comments

  1. says

    Ms. Hughes-Barnes gets extra points for this creative alliteration: “hockey rinks and honky-tonks.” But we ought to be thinking about our social responsibility as well as our marketing goals. Do we really want to be part of the grossification of the culture? Isn’t there enough of that already?

    • says

      Hi, Bill! Thanks for the compliment on my alliteration. I’m rather proud of that phrase, lol. As far as your thoughts on “adding to the grossification” go, here’s a little food for thought: in the 1700’s the word “hat” was a dirty word. (I’ll let you look up what it meant, lol) But there are no filthy thoughts that enter minds today when someone says it. Language is fluid. And the odd thing about lewd language is that when it becomes mainstream, it almost always loses its weight and other words have to become offensive. Not saying that you should take up swearing. I’m just saying that if everyone did, it wouldn’t be swearing anymore. Catch 22!

  2. says

    No, I won’t use it in my business. It makes me feel uncomfortable and so I believe if I tried to use it, my readers would also find it uncomfortable. But then, I don’t like profanity in movies or music either and is one of the reasons I don’t go to the movies any more

    • says

      I think that’s a good call. Profanity stirs serious emotions in people. If you don’t care for cussing, your core audience probably doesn’t either. I’m fascinated by how polarizing potty words are!

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