Ok, so I’ll admit that I’m a card-carrying member of the swear-like-a-sailor club.
I will drop an F-Bomb in everyday conversation as much I use words such as Love, Like or Ah-Mazing. I’ve never been a stickler for “proper” language and will admit that my son might have combined the words “stupid” and “F—” together when he was only 2.
I believe in freedom of speech and if it expresses who you are, go for it.
But, here’s the weird twist, I have a thing about swearing in your business copy.
For those of you who aren’t exactly sure – copy is any material (written or verbal) that you use to promote your business. So, that means your website, blogs, videos or other material – I have an issue with swearing.
Now, that might sound hypocritical or a little idiosyncratic, but I promise you that I have good reason to keep swear words out of your copy.
Before I give you those reasons, let’s go over some of the reasons people will say that using swear words in your copy is persuasive.
People will tell you that using swear words as part of your brand is persuasive because . . .
- It’s the way my audience talks
- It stands out and grabs attention
- You seem more real
- It expresses true emotion
Ok, sure. I might argue that the tone, the content and maybe using an apostrophe or two will help you do that too – but I do, understand the concept that perhaps using swear words can make you seem more real or approachable.
But, the problem is that for every person that is attracted to swearing in your content, there will be 10 who have opinions to the contrary.
The truth is that while it might seem hip and fun to use words such as “badass”, f—, sh— and more, using swear words has become almost cliché and even a little unimaginative.
Good copy speaks to your ideal client in a way that helps them see that you truly understand them –and can solve whatever problem they currently face.
And while we think that swear words convey that “hey, I’m just like you” feeling, the truth is that more often than not swearing can be a turnoff. It assumes that your audience can’t really read through the rest of your content to see themselves and that they need the swear words to connect.
A discerning reader will feel like you’re trying too hard –or worse yet, that you really don’t have the tools to express yourself clearly (i.e. stupid). Yikes!
My mom who came from the former Yugoslavia used to tell me that she loved the English language because there were so many words you could use to express the same idea. Swearing might signal that you lack the imagination or creativity to share a precise word that could better convey that same meaning.
And while you might think that people don’t think that far – they do. In very subtle ways.
People make up their mind about your business in seconds and if swearing turns them off, you’ve lost a chance to show them who you really are and what you have to offer.
That feels like a big risk to me.
In an ever-shrinking world, you also never know how swearing might be viewed cross-culturally. Someone visiting your website looking for . . . well, you, might go with your competitor because swearing is acceptable where they come from.
Again, feels like too big of a risk to me.
Plus, swearing might become a little like that tattoo you ABSOLUTELY BELIEVED was incredible when you were 18 . . . . something you come to regret when you’ve outgrown it (and can’t get rid of).
It has a way of following you and when you’re done with it, you just can’t shake it (thank you SEO Gods).
Even if you’ve deleted a page that contained %^$*, it’s possible that it can still be found and associated with your brand name. And if you’re like my clients, over time you evolve and will shift your audience. If your new one doesn’t accept swearing you might have more explaining to do than it’s worth.
Which is why if you’re really attached to swearing in your copy you should follow one solid rule . . .
Use swear words like humor – sparingly and only when you know it works with your target audience.
And even then, it might be safer to use shortcuts or keep swearing to certain content such as social media or email only. Saying WTF or What the H–, can have such a different impact when seen on social media or email than it can on your website or blog.
Knowing that people have become accustomed to certain usage makes it ok, especially when the content is meant to have only a short-term effect (such as email).
However, always remember that if you’re going to swear, always check your intent. People can see through an attempt to shock or get noticed versus someone’s natural way of speaking. So, if it’s not something you naturally do, then don’t start now. I don’t care how much your idol, mentor or copywriter tries to convince you – if it’s not you, it will come through.
So, what do you think?
This is one of those topics that tends to raise a lot of opinions and I would love to hear from you. Am I plain wrong? Do you wholeheartedly agree? Or maybe you’ve got an example where you thought swearing was the perfect mix.
Share below in the comments and let me know . . . what do you think?