Swearing. Does it ever belong in your marketing strategy?


An interesting topic was raised in a networking group recently where small business owners were asked how they felt about swearing in the professional realm. The response was an overwhelming and protesting “NEVER!” from every respondent.

The result left the author of this article scratching their head at the immediate shutdown of any prospect that swearing could have a place in anyone’s marketing strategy let alone their own. 

The contexts of swearing

There are many contexts and uses for swearing. Harvard Psychology Professor, Steven Pinker identifies five different types of swearing:

  • In an abusive context where the goal is to intimidate, offend or otherwise psychologically harm
  • Cathartic contexts to convey pain or sorrow
  • Emphatic swearing to alert someone’s attention to a worthy topic/object
  • Dysphemistic contexts used by the speaker to convey negativity on the subject and influence the listener/s to do the same
  • Idiomatic swearing that has no other purpose other than to establish the conversation as an informal one

So, we thought we’d explore when and if swearing ever works in marketing, and why. Naturally, there will be a solid vocabulary of swear words featuring in the paragraphs that follow (which we can’t pretend we’re not going to enjoy writing). If you’re likely to be bothered by this, you should click onto something else now. Here’s one of our articles with no swearing in it – go nuts.


As for the rest of you, strap yourselves in. It’s going to get blasphemous.  


Why is swearing so fucking offensive anyway?

Anything considered to be offensive or ‘taboo’ usually begins with a person or group collectively agreeing that it is so. But where does the modern-day opinion of swearing spring from?

We’re fairly certain that Neanderthals didn’t have exchanges like “Hey Oglog! That’s my fucking bone necklace, you prick!”   

Skip forward a few thousand years to circa 1450 where ‘profanity’ traces back in reference to lacking respect of things held sacred and exhibiting behaviour causing religious offence. Profanity’s cousin, ‘blasphemy’, was considered a more blatantly offensive attack on deities, religion, and other religious figures. Blasphemous profanity; what a fucking pair.

Over time, the English language evolved from Latin to a healthy mix of complex words influenced by countless other languages and brought onboard more Germanic-inspired adaptations such as ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’. These are just a couple of the wonderfully versatile swear words we know and love (or hate) today whose meaning can be dramatically curbed by context.

Arguments against swearing in business

It’s unprofessional

Swearing in business is up there next to wearing food-stained track pants to the office and scratching your nether regions in public on the offensive and unprofessional scale. You may as well be flipping everyone else off with your attitude.

Some businesses even go to the trouble of filtering out your shits and fucks on email servers to shield the delicate eyes of employees from such vulgarity.

Swearing’s unprofessional reputation stems from a stance dating back hundreds of years, evolving through the eras and the ebbs and flows of societal rules and expectations.

Let’s not forget, folks, the same list of society’s etiquette in the not-so-distant past included:

  • Young, unmarried women weren’t allowed to walk in public without an escort
  • Well-groomed people kept laughing and smiling to a minimum
  • Guests were to remain at a party until the guest of honour left
  • A lady may dance with a man two times in a row, but never three times

Seem ridiculous now? They sure-as-shit are. And yet, swearing is still considered wildly offensive in business.  

It makes you look less intelligent

The argument that swearing makes an individual appear less intelligent comes from an idea that swear words are used as a conversational ‘gap-filler’ where a person doesn’t have an adequately developed vocabulary to scan through and select a more appropriate word.  

However, recent scientific studies gave a big, fat “Au contraire mon frere!” to that argument with research suggesting the opposite; that swearing is in-fact a sign of more intelligence.

It distracts and detracts from your message

Another argument put forward is that swearing in your marketing content and business dealings can be off-putting and detract from the message you’re attempting to send. This can absolutely be the case if your message is going out to an audience of people likely to be offended by your language.

If you haven’t bothered to research and target your audience appropriately, you’ll be in what Sean Connery inadvertently refers to as a ‘shituation’.

By the same token, if swearing doesn’t come naturally to your business’s voice, don’t force it.
Your consumers aren’t idiots and can tell when you’re faking your fucks.

Arguments for swearing in business

It can humanise your business

In a market flooded by conventional corporate voices that may as well be saying “We know we look, sound, and act the same as our competitors, but we’re afraid of offending you and afraid of change. Please buy our stuff”, a swear word or seven can be refreshing for consumers.

By using everyday conversational language, a business can connect with consumers on a more human level. An often-welcome change from the monotoned, tired voices of ‘professional’ businesses.

Changing “feeling ill and fatigued?” to “feeling a bit shitty?” can break through the other advertising noise and resonate with your audience in a completely new way.

It’s effective if you know your audience

There’s an old public relations mantra; “you can’t please everyone.”
Businesses considering swearing in their marketing strategies shouldn’t be aiming to cast a wide net over audiences, but rather focusing on the groups most likely to engage with that approach.

Research is key. Drilling down on the demographics and psychographics of your target market could save you a world of hurt from offended consumer lynch mobs out for your blood.

An ill-considered campaign might look something like targeting an older audience of Viagra-users with a “get fucked” slogan plastered across the product.

It just wouldn’t go down. (See what we did there?)

It can be a rapport-builder

One-on-ones with clients, board meetings, and any other circumstances in a business where you find yourself speaking to one or more colleagues or clients can be a good opportunity to release your inner-sailor. In fact, it can be a very effective ice-breaker.

Dropping an f-bomb in a meeting can immediately change the temperature of a room in a good way. It feels good for you because swearing can help drive a point home (and let’s be honest, you’ve been holding it in like a saint). And, it can feel good for them because the meeting all-of-a-sudden got a little less formal and intimidating.

After all, despite robotic corporate appearances, we’re all human. Swearing can be a great reminder of this in the right circumstances and can help build your connections through displaying personality, and by demonstration through encouraging and inviting others that it’s okay to do the same.

We’ve assumed that if you’ve made it all the way to the end of this article, you’re no stranger to the odd bit of profanity.


And as always, choose your words wisely. Or don’t. That’s up to you!

We’ll leave you with this incredible clip from George Carlin on ‘7 words you can’t say on TV’.