Doug Kessler

28 May 2015

Is it EVER okay to swear in marketing copy?

I wrote a post recently on the Velocity blog about swearing in marketing and it was kind of…polarising.

Some people thought it was funny. Others found it juvenile and offensive.

But what I really liked was that a lot of people found the subject interesting.

Because, even though I started writing the post for a bit of fun, it soon became clear that this is actually a rich subject, worthy of proper analysis.

Tom Albrighton agreed and invited me to speak on the subject at the upcoming Copywriting Conference, organised by the Professional Copywriters’ Network (9 October, London).

So I’ve been thinking about swearing in marketing even more lately.

And it occurred to me that the scarcity of swearing in marketing is a powerful example of the underlying problem with most marketing: it screams, “MARKETING!!!” even more loudly than it communicates its intended message.

Think about it: many of us swear a fair amount and all of us hear a lot of profanity in everyday conversation; at work; at home; on the bus; on TV; in films; in novels; in songs; in poetry.

So instead of asking, “Why would anybody swear in marketing?” we should ask, “Why don’t we all do it all the time?”

What is it about marketing that excludes it from this totally ubiquitous and patently normal part of speech?

Clearly, marketing is a special kind of speech – a kind of speech bound by all sorts of invisible conventions.

One of those invisible conventions is that we don’t swear in marketing.

But surely the best marketing is marketing that breaks the conventions of marketing.  That doesn’t shout, “MARKETING!!!!” but just…talks.

And surely, as copywriters, our job is to tease out these invisible conventions and expose them. Analyse them. Challenge them.

Of course, our audiences are bound by the same conventions that constrain copywriters and our client masters.

And breaking invisible conventions may well have all-too-visible consequences.

They might write to their MPs.

And we might get fired.

But still: if you love this ridiculous job called copywriting (I do), surely you also love thinking about the hidden rules of the marketing craft.

And seeing what happens when you break them.

Or at least bend them a bit.

I hope you can make it to the breathtakingly-obviously-named Copywriting Conference, where we’ll kick this kind of thing around. Should be fun.

And I’m always on the lookout for examples of swearing in marketing. So if you know any, please send them my way. (doug@velocitypartners.co.uk).


What do you think?

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Natalie Smithson

May 29, 2015 at 10:53am

Hi Doug,

I’m really fascinated by this subject too. It seems to be in at the moment in the blogging community as part of being ‘real’. I’m not convinced it does that and can’t bring myself to swear in even a personal blog (even though I do plenty in real life) because in five or ten years time when a fine piece of copy may still be of interest, will the F Bomb that goes off in the middle still be relevant? I don’t know. It will be interesting to see where it leads…

Nat