Sunday, May 1, 2016

Should Your Brand Use Profanity?

Friday evening I had the long-delayed pleasure of seeing comedian Lewis Black perform live.

Black raises profanity to an art, using obscenities not to shock, but to amplify, and lessen the pain of living in an absurd world.

In their drive to express authentic passion, more and more brands are resorting to the use of profanity in their marketing communications.

Should you?

The answer's fairly straightforward: the reward—authenticity—may not be worth the risks. By using profanities:

  • You risk going off-brand. A frighteningly profane Lewis Black would be on brand; a frighteningly profane Martha Stewart wouldn't. You can, of course, test the waters, and apologize afterwards. As Mel Brooks once said, "I've been accused of vulgarity. I say that´s bullshit."
  • You risk offending good customers. The Bowdlers are still with us. Thomas and Henrietta Bowdler were English siblings who published a family-friendly edition of Shakespeare in 1807. We get the word bowdlerize from them (they replaced, for example, Lady Macbeth's cry "Out, damned spot!" with "Out, crimson spot!"). The Bowdlers of this world are easily offended. Just observe any young parent or elementary schoolteacher.
  • You risk losing shares. Even people who don’t mind profanity might not share your blue content with family, friends and colleagues. The research is clear on this.
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