* Important Disclaimer Warning: This article contains controversial ideas, is not for the hard of thinking and should be taken with a pinch of salt!
Ever since Marcel Duchamp purchased a ‘Bedfordshire’ model urinal from a plumbing supplier in New York in 1917, turned it upside down, signed it R. Mutt and called it ‘Fountain’, creative types (in ALL fields) have been given free rein to use the power of shock, silliness and sensationalism with ever increasing wanton abandon.
And this includes copywriters!
Now, I am no philistine (honest guv), and there is a fair bit of postmodern and post-postmodern and post-post-postmodern (feel free to repeat my formula ad nauseum here) that I actually quite like.
But, purely subjectively speaking of course, there is an awful lot that I really don’t.
Why? Because in my opinion the things I don’t like are usually perfect examples of the Emperors New Clothes par excellence!
Just because something is new or different or ‘offensive’ it doesn’t automatically mean that it is good, clever or appealing.
Of course, fans of postmodernism will always counter argue by talking about ‘aesthetic relativism’ i.e. the philosophical view whereby ‘The judgement of beauty is relative to different individuals and/or cultures and that there are no universal criteria of beauty.’ – Wikipedia
Or put more simply ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’.
But this is simply ridiculous. In my opinion it is a consensus reality madness which has left personal expression as the only King of the Castle (or should that be Emperor?).
With the above in mind, let’s return back to the subject in hand i.e our friend the ‘F-bomb’ and why you should avoid it like the plague in your copy.
But first before I dive into its ‘cons’, let me quickly address the ‘pros’.
The main points its advocates seem to rally behind are:
- It can be used to directly target your key audience (i.e. speak in the language of your ideal client/or how your clients perceive you thus using your ‘authentic’ voice),
- It can be funny and memorable,
- It has ‘emotional impact’,
- Shows you are edgy and ‘keeping it real’.
And my reply to all the above is…..in one word….Nonsense.
Come on, I mean really…none of these excuses for using the F-bomb in your copy holds much water! Sure if you are down the pub joking with your mates after a few drinks, or you stub your little toe on the corner of your bed, or are behind a wheel of quite frankly anything that moves, then yeah I completely understand. In fact I thoroughly recommend it.
But in your carefully crafted persuasive commercial copy? Nope. Not really.
Want to know why? Well, here goes:
1. It makes you look dumb
That’s right. Contrary to Stephen ‘a stupid person’s idea of what an intelligent person is like’ Fry’s oft employed argument supporting the use of swearing; “The sort of twee person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or a lack of verbal interest is just a f******g lunatic.”
I would actually argue the opposite is true when it comes to carefully crafted copy i.e. if you need to use the ‘F’ word it probably does highlight something…no smoke without fire and all that!
2. It assumes your readers are dumb too
Yep. Let me explain. If you feel you have to rely on crass ‘F’ splattered sentences to make a point, shock, ingratiate or connect in any meaningful way with your reader then you are probably inadvertently talking down to them – and isn’t that just a bit arrogant and condescending?
3. It lacks imagination
Put it this way, the English language has evolved over thousands of years. The range and scope of its Indo-European roots are mind blowing. On its long convoluted journey towards the English we know and love today it has adapted, adopted, assimilated, split, stolen, merged and morphed back together in a staggering myriad number of ways.
As a result it has accumulated a simply vast vocabulary of words. Far more in fact than probably any other language that has ever existed…and yet with such a rich resource at your disposal you have to resort time and time again to one poor little over worked four letter word starting with ‘F’. I mean, really? There are twenty five other letters also crammed full of wonderful expletives – as well as many, splendid copulation synonyms to draw upon!
4. It limits your audience
You might think it speaks directly to your exact, perfect, model, dream audience; is cool, great, rock’n’roll, and hiptastically wonderful. But does anyone ever really know who reads their copy or when or even where it might end up?
The digital world we now live in seems to be completely infinite with no limits or boundaries in any direction (or dimension). So once we send things out into hyperspace we completely lose control of them and they can literally take on a life of their own and end up impressing or unimpressing people for an eternity.
5. It can be unintentionally offensive
Even if your copy reaches your perfect audience who all absolutely and utterly adore the ‘F’ word. Who is to say they are not sitting right next to their elderly aunt as they are reading who also happens to be a pious nun or their loveable but old fashioned granddad? Or for that matter their five year old younger brother who is reading the copy over their shoulder and thinks that the new word they have just learnt is wonderful too and should be used as often as possible at their kindergarten school! Get my point?
6. It doesn’t travel well.
We might all live in a nice global village now (apparently) but not all parts have the same values, cultures and beliefs. Far from it in fact. Things we take for granted as normal in one country may be taboo, off limits, bad taste or even banned. So why take the risk and offend a potential customer when you don’t have to?
7. It might not age well either
Just because people think it’s becoming more acceptable to drop the ‘F’ word into their copy these days, it could well be a fad and one that ages badly over time. Now I appreciate that copy is all about staying contemporary and all that yaddy yah stuff. But I am always surprised by how often old work I wrote years ago still pops up out of the blue when I least expect it – and I suspect this trend will continue long into the future (remember point 4!).
8. If you have to swear maybe it just means you are a poor communicator?
That’s right. If you have to rely on swearing to be noticed or get your point across then maybe you need to go back to school and learn how to communicate more effectively. Personally, I don’t remember many of the great copywriters from the past using the ‘F’ word a whole lot and they managed to do a pretty fabulous job – bless their ‘role model’ little socks!
9. It dilutes your core message
Most of us produce work not just for ourselves but for our clients, and normally with the main aim of flogging some product or service on their behalf. So we don’t really want to be diverting attention away from that goal do we? It’s kind of ermm counter productive wouldn’t you say?
10. Its actually ‘telegraphing’ immaturity
Sorry. But at the end of the day – statistically speaking – you swear more when you are a spotty teenager and it generally declines as you get older, more mature and wiser (and as an aside (but also maybe relevant?) youngsters swear more now at a younger age than ever before, and boys do it more than girls).
11. If you want to be cheeky try and do something more original
Advertising is chock full of clever and creative alternatives to the ‘F’ word.
- French Connection’s ‘FCUK’ campaign,
- Samonsite’s F’lite luggage (so F’lite you won’t believe it),
- Sofa King (Our prices are Sofa King Low)
- Virgin‘s ‘Phucket’
- A CK advert from the 80’s here
These are all great examples of this in action!
The point is that if you are trying to be funny or cheeky there are loads of great alternatives to dropping the poor tired old ‘F-bomb’. Why not try and be a bit original instead?
12. Think about your reputation
Someone far smarter than me once said ‘it takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that you’ll do things differently’. People have long memories and getting a reputation as a ‘smarty pants potty mouth’ if you want to be in it for the long haul probably isn’t that wise!
What’s more, our subconscious mind cannot disassociate words too well, so by using your company name next to obscenities and words for bodily waste matter, it is damning you by association.