Potty Mouth: The Case for and Against Using Profanity in Your Content
Do your customers use those words? Here’s how to know if you can too.
OMG, did that brand just drop an F-bomb on their social media post?
You can love it. You can hate it. What you can’t do is ignore the fact that profanity gets your attention. Proponents say it’s appropriate. Opponents insist it’s the kiss of death. Who makes a better case? After all, more than 26 million people have watched Dollar Shave Club founder Michael Dubin say, “Our blades are f***ing great,” and Unilever ended up buying the company for a reported $1 billion in cash.
We’re not advising you to use profanity – but there can be times when dropping an F-bomb or one of its naughty relatives might be advantageous for your content. Here’s when and why it might work.
Pushing a signal through the noise
Cussing can be good for business, according to Forbes. This influential publishing giant recently wrote that for some brands, a little bit of well-positioned profanity can boost profits. Wasn’t former president Barack Obama known to push out the occasional salty descriptive?
Forbes sums up their support of swearing by saying that permission to do it is actually granted by your customers. “Don’t judge them,” Forbes says, “relate to them. So, if they like to swear, join them. They’ll love you for it.”
“F**k yeah!” is likely how VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuk would respond. The entrepreneur peppers his vocabulary with profanity. It hasn’t hurt him, and some would say it’s one of the reasons he has a net worth of nearly $160 million. “I only believe in authenticity,” Vaynerchuk says on an interview he posted on Facebook. “It’s how I talk.”
Vaynerchuk is known for his keen insight into business success and marketing. He’d definitely agree with Forbes that his use of profanity is because it’s a connection to his target audience. They want his honest opinion on how to crush it in business.
Researchers from four universities around the globe backed that up, finding that people who swear are more likely to be honest. “Profanity,” they concluded, “was associated with less lying and deception at the individual level and with higher integrity at the society level.”
Know your audience
Garage Technology Ventures founder and best-selling author Guy Kawasaki believes the use of profanity can have a positive effect for entrepreneurs. He tells Entrepreneur that it can engender camaraderie and trust.
Kawasaki also believes profanity is more effective when it’s used infrequently, and that it’s best reserved for situations where you are basically just saying what’s on the minds of your audience. He calls these “head smackingly stupid” moments.
Does this mean he thinks Gary Vaynerchuk has a lot of head smackingly stupid moments of connection with his audience? Perhaps not. Advising people how not to look clueless on social media, he adds, “Swearing is bullsh*t. (I’ve waited a long time to write something that clever.)”
Somewhere along the way, swearing on social media became a sign of openness, sincerity, and authenticity. Go figure. Profanity can also signal that you’re inarticulate, if not clueless, so rarely use it unless, for example, you want to make a strong statement about SEO.
Maybe Kawasaki was considering his audience – which for an article in Entrepreneur could be different than those who read his own blog.
Blah blah f***ing blah
So, it’s part of a billion-dollar payday for Dollar Shave Club, and a measure of authenticity for Gary Vee. It might be OK, according to Guy Kawasaki, if you’re a CEO giving a speech and you’re just saying what’s already on everybody’s minds.
What about your content?
Online visibility expert SEMrush agrees that dropping an F-bomb needs to be totally relevant to your audience. They say profanity is an effective way to differentiate your brand from other boring content producers because you can establish a unique voice.
Sure, but what about Mom and Dad, aka Google? Officially, Google says it takes no position on profanity. That may be true, but don’t forget about the default setting on Google’s Safe Search filter. Regardless of how your audience feels about profanity, they may not even know you dropped an F-bomb – even if you did it in a headline.
It could be that your audience doesn’t give a sh*t if you pepper your content with profanity – especially if it’s because you are being your true self. But if you consider Gary Vaynerchuk to be the potty mouth poster boy, maybe the use of profanity in your content should be as rare as a visit by Halley’s Comet. We last saw it in 1986 and we won’t see it again until 2061.
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