Swearing in Your Copy? Fuck Off.


Don't say "fuck" unless you really fucking want to

It's a rule I try to stick to.

A confession. I swear loads. I swear at the football, I swear when Piers Morgan appears on the TV, and I swear when my cat wakes me up by knocking books onto the floor.

But I don’t swear in my copy. Because it’s a really shit idea.

Swearing – Not Edgy Enough to Sell

I’ve spoken to people who like to drop the odd expletive into their copy for edgy brands and products that target a younger audience.

What’s the point?

Swearing isn’t cool. It’s not uncool. It’s not even a way of making a statement for lots of people. It’s just verbal filler.
Very few people see the word ‘twat‘ in a piece of copy and think “wow. This really speaks to me.”

Swearing doesn’t even register with the target audience.

Swearing Registers With The Wrong People

Swearing only really registers with the sort of righteous dickheads who get all het up about someone dropping the F-bomb.

A stray ‘bastard’ will have them up in arms complaining, upsetting your client. So why bother swearing when the only people who react aren’t going to buy anyway?

What do you think? Does swearing sell? Or does it just make you a wanker?

14 Comments comments for "Swearing in Your Copy? Fuck Off."

  1. Louise Steel at 9:46 am

    This post makes me really happy.

    I don’t swear much unless a verbal conversation calls for a bit of embellishment. I rarely swear on Twitter, because I know what I think about people who litter my feed with sweary comments. In the wrong hands, swearing just gets on my t&$s.

    I’m not a prude by any stretch (rigmutton and proud), but by of adding a bit of bravado to written stuff that’s shared around, the effers usually just come across as t*!ts.

    Jean Brodie

  2. Tom Albrighton at 9:47 am

    What about the French Connection ‘FCUK’ campaign – ‘Fcuk fashion’ etc? For years and years they’ve put the f-bomb in big capital letters all over their products, their shops and outdoor billboards.

    That probably appeals to a certain subset of younger customers who really don’t give a fcuk. But if you care at all about marketing as a part of our culture, it’s hard to see it as constructive or edifying. Although it was arguably done in a creative way, when you take away the ingenuity there’s no real idea there.

    And for me, that’s the point. If your idea has got the goods, there’s absolutely no need to strengthen it with expletives. All you’re doing is narrowing its appeal, and increasing the chances of people being embarrassed by it. All in all, hard to make a case.

  3. John Yossarian at 4:42 pm

    This is a fun little blog post.

    I write in the adult industry, and still find myself swearing very little – in fact, not at all. I swear a lot on my personal blog and other sites to which I contribute, but I tend to avoid profanity professionally, because it’s unprofessional to be profane.

    Sometimes though, swearing can be a good traffic driver. If you saw the following news article or blog post “5 Reasons Obama Is A Cunt”, you’d probably click through.


  4. Gareth Cook at 4:52 pm

    I totally agree Andrew. There really isn’t any point or any excuse to include swearing in copy. For me, rather than attempting to be ‘edgy’ or ‘cool’ it just shows a distinct lack of imagination and misunderstanding of the target audience.

    There’s a place for humour in copy, but there’s nothing inherently funny about swearwords either. Unless you’re an adolescent. And the example that Tom mentioned has always made me wince and I’m amazed that they have bothered to persist with it for so long.

    Inventive, engaging prose with carefully chosen words working to get the message across as quickly and simply as possible will always win hands-down against the shock factor of expletives.

  5. Aaron Bradley at 5:18 pm

    I … I … want to swear on your comments feed … but I saw your comment … oh … darn! Heck!

    Honestly, used sparingly swearing can have an extraordinary impact, even if it’s not the route to riches (re Tom’s point, I think one of the ways I care “about marketing as a part of our culture” is by doing what I can to ensure it is sometimes disruptive, occasionally even – gasp! – challenging people to think rather than solely cajoling them to consume).

    But the “sparingly” is important: if you used bold all the time in copy, no bold words would stand out. And it works best if, on top of it, it is out of character.

    Some marketing campaigns have seized on the suggestion of swearing with some success. And one I like that combines implied swearing with an unlikely voice is the TV campaign for Frank’s Hot Sauce. “I put that [bleep] on everything!” says the old lady. Makes me smile.

    • Andrew at 9:03 am

      Good point Aaron, and it reminds me of a car advert with a bunch of toddlers saying “bollocks” in exasperation at everything. But I think that swearing (or the suggestion of swearing) works far better on TV or radio than they do when they’re written down. Especially if you’re not sure what you’ve just heard…

  6. Pingback: Daddy, what’s a mong? | ABC Copywriting blog
  7. B. Ligerent at 12:18 pm

    I love a good ‘Fuck Off’ as much as the next guy. In my day-to-day life I default in swear mode. But only thundercunts don’t know how to turn the switch off.

    In life and in copywriting you’ve got to tailor your language to the situation at hand.

    I usually keep swearing to a minimum in business meetings – depending on the personalities of the client and the relationship we have. I don’t think I’ve ever sworn in copy for a client. I’m not morally or professionally opposed to it. But most of the time it would be more trouble than it’s worth. If it fits your brand’s personality, and if you don’t have to worry about legal issues, spam filters, advertisers pulling out, etc. than I think it could be advisable. Those, however, are a lot of IFs.

  8. Lankin at 4:04 pm

    In general, I agree with you and Aaron. Your post reminded me of a German multimedia store, notorious for its advertising campaigns. Their slogan used to be “Geiz ist geil,” which roughly translates to “Envy is friggin’ awesome.”
    This is an ad of the same company, giving a whole new meaning to the promise of added benefit.

    I dislike it, but nevertheless, it seems to match the taste of quite a large part of the population.

    I love to swear, but my swearing differs a lot depending on the language I use. German as a language loves to create composite nouns, and there is hardly a better way to swear than this; you can hit with the accuracy of a Prussian sabre, instead of a verbal sweeping blow.
    – “Kompetenzsimulant!” — someone who fakes competence
    – “Bildungsresistenter, minimalkonfigurierter Intelligenzallergiker!” — someone who is completely resistant to any attempt of education, whose brain runs on a minimal standard configuration, and who is in total allergic to intelligence

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