Curse it all … or not?

There was a debate recently on Facebook that became very public and at times a bit ugly. However, both sides raised quite interesting points, all worthy of discussion.

I am not going to mention the two individuals involved, but I will say I respect both of them for what they do.

The issue was over using what most people would consider to be "foul language" in their marketing materials, and in emails to their list.

The "pro" side was taken by a well-known copywriter. He's a younger, "edgy" mentor-type, who very successfully teaches and coaches other people in how to write successful copy that converts. He has an in-your-face personality and does not censor his opinions, nor his language.

The "con" side was taken by an older gentleman (relatively speaking) who is longtime successful marketer. He prides himself in having a professional image, and has built a large following based on that image.

There is validity to the reasoning each of them brought to the table.

The copywriter, in presenting the "pro" side, stated that if in your normal, everyday conversation, that was the language you use, then it was perfectly acceptable to use it in business materials.

He did say that if you are intentionally developing a persona that would not use that language, then you simply wouldn’t use it while writing as that persona. Not that it would be inappropriate, but only that it wouldn’t be appropriate for that persona.

He made the case that your target audience needs to be comfortable. If they're comfortable hearing from someone who uses that type of language, then not only is it acceptable, but it's actually advisable.

You want your market to be able to relate to you and to feel comfortable with you. If their friends cuss, and you want to be seen as someone they can relate to that closely, then you should be cussing too. At least, that's how the logic goes.

The marketer, in taking the “con” side, declared that under no circumstances was it ever acceptable to use foul language in your business communications. He held the position that in order to effectively market to people, you had to be seen as not only an expert, but as a professional expert.

He was of the position that the use of foul language can not be in keeping with a professional image.

He claims that you will always, in the long run, have better conversions and build a larger following by avoiding "edgy" behavior, such as using curse words in your marketing materials or emails.

It was a very interesting debate to me, because while I completely agree with the copywriter, I take the approach of the marketer.

While I won’t declare that I’ll never use a curse word in my marketing materials, I don't believe I ever have. It's just not my style. I’m not easily offended, especially by words, and I have been known to use colorful language in some social settings, but I just don’t see their place in my marketing business.

With that said, I know it's important to relate to your audience. Younger consumers may have a tendency to either ignore that type of language, or even feel comfortable with the fact that it's being used.

Does that mean it should be used?

My opinion is that each of us needs make that decision for ourselves, based on our own business, and our own approach to marketing and communication with our target audience.

Unless it’s racially or ethnically divisive, I am not offended by it when I see it in emails and marketing materials, but that does not mean I'm about to start using it in that environment.

What are your thoughts on this issue?

Weigh in on this issue in the comments section below. I would love to hear which side of this debate you agree with.

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  1. I’ve found the best outcome of jokes and profanity, in a business relationship, is breaking even.

    I don’t mind profanity in a novel if it matches the character’s personality. I can always stop reading it.

    In my opinion, if people see a fork in the road, then take it. If one way doesn’t work, then try the other way.


    • Very well said.

      I agree about novels. Sometimes, a character just wouldn’t seem themselves without utterances of profanity!

  2. My two cents: like everything in marketing, it depends on the audience. I’ve seen bloggers like The Blogess use foul language in ways that are incredibly funny. It’s part of who she is and people (me included) love her. I use that kind of language in real life but just yesterday I changed some words on my blog post because I didn’t feel comfortable posting them.

    • Yes, it definitely works for some people. If you don’t feel comfortable using it, then it’s probably best not to, right?! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Really loved this post Ed. I am with your way of thinking but I equally don’t mind if others swear.

    • Thanks, Ruby! I think most of us probably think that way, rather than one of the two extremes.


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