Vulgar language has no place in your marketing

There are 2 writers I admire deeply who litter their prose with foul language. One is the great James Kelman; if you don’t understand Glaswegian dialect, don’t even bother reading, but trust me, he’s brilliant.  The other is a well known blogger who shall remain nameless because I do not want this to be a defense/attack on said blogger.  As I stated, I admire them; they, however, are the singular exception I make for accepting vulgarity in online writing.

I swear a lot in real life; the honest-to-God truth is that my father was a truck driver.  And I spent more than a decade in the carpet industry, where to swear was to speak.  I am not offended in the slightest by cursing in everyday language.  James Kelman’s use of cursing lends a gritty realism that is necessary for his subject matter. The blogger I admire often shocks the reader with their color.  I understand the reason both utilize vulgarity, but before you do, think long and hard.

Here are two reasons I strongly advocate that you refrain from cursing in your blog or marketing materials:

  1. The digital world is anything but private; simply ask Randi Zuckerberg or the Storify Co-Founder who is having his online lunch handed to him for the recently discovered practice of publishing private Facebook posts.  Do you want future clients and/or employers coming across your crassness?
  2. The written curse word usually comes across as lazy and unimaginative.

This image of the incredible Maggie Smith was floating around Facebook this week:

Vulgarity has no place in marketing


Violet is, as always, correct.

Cursing is not clever or witty, and it doesn’t make your brand hip or cool.  Your marketing language needs to communicate your message clearly, tell the reader how you will benefit them, pull their heartstrings, or whatever the goal of your campaign is.  Great copywriters can use language to communicate and stir emotions; they do not have to rely upon vulgarity to do so.

The chance that you will offend using crass language is so much greater than anything positive that may come of it… even in your conversational and relaxed blog space.

  • I always wonder this point Amy, there are some classic in your face campaigns built around foul language…But, I think this is the point, it only works when it is done with your target market in mind. You have to be willing to tick off everyone who doesn’t matter for your brand. 

    And cursing is not edgy, just crass, when used without any forethought. Those words have a loooooooot of power and that is why we react so strongly to them. 

  • Is the blogger from Montreal? 😉

    It depends – for some, this is their brand and it works. Look at Erika Napoletano and her Redhead Writing persona; Gary Vee; Julien Smith. These are just three. I’ve had meetings with really smart folks that have cussed up a storm and yet their ideas were brilliant – and the placement of the cuss merely emphasized that.

    Overkill does you no favours, but at the same time, I’d be far less worried about cussing versus shady practices and shills. 🙂

    • Yes well, I love Erika’s work, and it works for her… but it’s too dangerous for most to try. AND, I mean in MARKETING not in meetings.  I think there is a thin line between conversational and relaxed, and unprofessional.  It’s too great a risk for most to take.

      Of course there will always be exceptions to every rule, and there are rock stars who can get away with it.. but for the great majority of people I say Don’t Do It.  Besides, the majority of the time it’s pure laziness on the writer’s part.

      •  But these three examples I used are via marketing – they’re out there in the public, where anyone can see. I know what you’re saying, but it comes down to the individual (as in recipient) – if we’re encouraging people to be more transparent in their business dealings, then we should expect true transparency. Or are we of the thought that people don’t cuss? 😉

        • We are of the thought that people burp, but they don’t burp in public.  Honestly, I stopped getting Julien’s email because of the crassness – he uses it so often and loosely that it loses it’s effect.  He can’t write without it… and I totally get the ‘thumb your nose’ at the world, I’ve made it and I don’t care persona he has… but that doesn’t work for companies.

            Erika is the only one that I think of the 3 uses it effectively, and that’s my point… not everyone can write like her.

          So, I stick with my  main point. It’s dangerous and often lazy to use it in your marketing writing…   

          • You’re both hitting on the underlying question mark here, how much of our true self (buzzwords: authentic… transparent… bingo!) do we put out there and where is the line drawn?

            Despite all the speaker circuit talk about transparency, I’m willing to bet that very few are putting everything out there, warts and all. We all moderate to an extent, individual or organization, whether to avoid overshare or simply to keep the peace (think Christmas dinner with conservative in-laws). To that same end, I see Amy’s point about the right time and place.

            Tempered with purity of thought, I think profanity can be effectively used. It’s when it becomes the end instead of the means that I have a problem with it. 

          • Yes Steve.  @GeoffLivingston:twitter actually used the word PISS in his blog yesterday -shh…. 

            I think I’m more focused on the Julien Smith kind of cursing, and I KNOW it works for him. But for most brands it’s a huge turn off… it doesn’t sound genuine when you’re using it for effect… it sounds effected.

    • PS – have your read Kelman????

    • F’ing* Canadians! 


  • Completely agree here. For me, vulgarity in marketing shows a sort of disrespect for your potential clients. I’m not against vulgarity. Heck, you should be in my car some time, but there is a time and place for it and neither is in your marketing. 

  • Kim

    Vulgar language definitely limits who will share your marketing online. I’ve seen URLs with “sh*t” in them, which usually turn up in all their glory on social media. I have friends who share really interesting stuff on FB but preface the reposts with language so blue I won’t share it. I’m not easily offended, but some are.