Disclaimer: Please refrain from reading this post if you’re easily offended or have no sense of humor whatsoever.
It’s noisy and saturated these days in the marketing realm.
Brands are in a never-ending battle of one-upmanship.
With many industries being hyper-competitive and increasingly saturated, it’s never been more difficult to stand out from the pack.
But one technique that seems to work (at least for the brands that do it right) is swearing.
Some notable companies that have pulled this off flawlessly include Thug Kitchen, Vinomofo, and Dollar Shave Club.
It’s also something I have experimented with in the past.
In this post, I’d like to talk about the pros and cons of this brand strategy and whether or not you should try it.
I’ll draw from my own experience and use some actual examples to help you decide whether this is a viable technique for your brand.
Keep in mind that there will be some swearing, so only keep reading if you’re cool with that.
Why would you want to swear in your marketing?
It’s important to first say that swearing isn’t the right move for many brands.
For example, if you’re selling children’s toys, this approach obviously isn’t in the cards for you. If you use it, it’s just going to hurt your reputation.
But if you’re catering to a certain demographic (e.g., snarky twenty-somethings), this can most definitely work to your advantage.
Why would it make sense to drop a few f-bombs?
The way I look at it, there are four main reasons why you would want to swear.
1. It’s funny
If your audience is fairly lax—not too uptight or rigid—there’s a good chance a percentage of them will respond favorably to swearing. It’ll look humorous to them.
It’s kind of like conjuring your inner Beavis and Butthead who can’t help but find potty humor and cursing funny.
I think the funny factor is heightened even more when it catches you off guard and you hear someone like an old lady or a little girl swearing.
Take Potty-Mouthed Princesses, for example.
In a campaign from FCKH8.com, seemingly innocent little girls dressed as princesses drop f-bombs for feminism:
It definitely takes you by surprise, and you can’t help but laugh when you hear little girls swearing like sailors.
2. It conveys authenticity
When you think about all the overly corporate, polished brands out there that are meticulous about keeping a spotless reputation, it’s refreshing to see a brand that lets loose a little.
When I see a brand swearing, I feel like they’re “keeping it real” and know how to have fun. It shows that a company knows what it’s all about and isn’t afraid to run with it.
3. It conveys confidence
Swearing is a ballsy marketing move. It’s not for the timid.
It shows you’re not afraid to be a little rebellious and break conventional marketing rules. Some notable personalities have built their entire identity on a salty word.
Is it offensive? Maybe. Depends on who you are.
Is it confident? Heck, yes.
I think a few well-placed curse words also show that a brand has the cojones to rock the ship, which is appealing to many customers.
4. It helps you connect on a deeper level with your audience
It’s fair to say that “rocking the ship” by swearing won’t allow you to appeal to as wide of a demographic as it would if you kept your marketing squeaky clean.
But who cares?
Using this approach shows you really know your audience and aren’t trying to be everything to everyone.
Or as Tyler Durden from Fight Club would say,
You gotta crack a few eggs to make an omelet.
What are the potential repercussions?
Of course, it might not be all puppy dogs and rainbows if you incorporate swearing into your marketing. There can be some drawbacks.
After all, being controversial isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
I actually wrote a blog post about a small experiment I conducted to see how my email subscribers would respond to me sending them an email with a controversial title.
Here’s what I found:
- I was hoping that the open rate would increase, but it stayed the same (roughly 26%).
- It received more traffic than most other posts. It even got an extra 4,061 visitors compared to a normal Monday blog post, and my social media traffic was 134% more than normal.
- It hurt my revenue. Compared to a normal Monday, the income dropped by 26%. The income for that day was even lower than for the days when I don’t published a blog post by roughly 4%.
This means that swearing isn’t necessarily a smart move for your brand.
You may come across as crass, unsophisticated, and even uneducated.
In fact, it can potentially sour your existing relationships, make you lose customers, and hurt your overall profitability.
This is why I don’t recommend jumping in head first with swearing. You’ll want to know the full scope of this marketing move and the potential implications before you start swearing like a sailor.
What I’m trying to say is that like with most things, there are inherent pros and cons to swearing.
It’s definitely not for every brand, but it works well for some.
Examples of brands that use swearing
I’d like to point out three specific brands that I feel have used swearing to their advantage.
They’re all a little edgy and known for being cynical and snarky. They’re also quite witty.
Example 1 – Thug Kitchen
In my opinion, this brand really pushes the envelope. Just look at what visitors see after landing on its homepage:
Keep in mind that this is above the fold for the whole world to see. It’s not hidden on some obscure page of the site. It’s in your face and right to the point.
Not many brands would have the courage to take this approach.
Call them obscene. Call them dangerous. Call them crass, but I feel that Thug Kitchen pulls it off eloquently.
Just take a look at one of its blog posts:
Or check out the Thug Kitchen Cookbook trailer:
For a second, you think this is just another commercial like the thousands of other super-PC, mind-numbing commercials out there.
But it quickly becomes evident that this is very, very different. Thug Kitchen uses its wit and smartassery to make an incredibly (in my opinion) funny spoof commercial.
The team does it seamlessly and with a great entertainment factor.
Example 2 – Vinomofo
This company specializes in selling “epic wines” to wine enthusiasts around the world.
Their brand identity puts an emphasis on being authentic and unpretentious.
And while they’re nowhere near as hardcore as Thug Kitchen is with their swearing, Vinomofo is definitely edgy.
Here’s a short snippet from the “About” section of their site that describes the “Mofo Tribe”:
It’s pretty clear they’ve got a firm grasp of their demographic.
It’s also clear they’re not worried about catering to everyone. They “get it” and are just looking to connect with their tight little audience.
Example 3 – Dollar Shave Club
Pretty much everyone has heard of Dollar Shave Club by now.
That’s founder Michael Dubin being saucy and sarcastic about how awesome his company’s razor blades are.
There’s no beating around the bush, and Dollar Shave Club’s distinct brand of humor has been the primary reason for their success and net worth of $615 million.
In my opinion, they’re marketing geniuses who have found a way to pepper in a little swearing to enhance their brand identity.
Here’s the deal: Under the right circumstances, swearing and even flat-out obscenity can work wonders.
Aaaand, here’s my disclaimer: Under the wrong circumstances, it can offend consumers, diminish your brand equity, and make you look like an insensitive bigot.
It’s really amazing how far-ranging the results can be.
Although I’ve found swearing to have more of a negative than positive impact on my brand, this doesn’t mean it can’t work for you.
Just look at the success that companies like Thug Kitchen, Vinomofo, and especially Dollar Shave Club have had.
Or think about famous people such as comedian George Carlin and author Chuck Palahniuk, whose names have become synonymous with being edgy and non-PC.
My advice is this: consider your audience, and ask these questions:
- Does your target audience primarily consist of people who would be okay with swearing?
- Or would it turn them off and detract from their experience?
- Also, does swearing align with the overall brand identity you’re trying to establish?
If you feel like swearing could be used to your advantage, you might want to experiment with it.
I wouldn’t go to the extremes of Thug Kitchen and start dropping f-bombs left and right. But you could throw in a curse word or two to see how your audience reacts.
I also recommend that you avoid being blatantly offensive. Be mature. Keep it classy, and try not to alienate your audience in the process.
What’s your opinion of brands that use swearing?