A documentary about the Scottish fondness for swearing may seem odd inspiration for your brand messaging. But look closely and the BBC’s ‘Scotland: Contains Strong Language’ was full of useful lessons – and not just that the Scots can claim the first written record of the world’s most popular swear word. (Hint - it’s not ‘fudge’.)
We’re not saying you should start peppering your marketing copy with F-bombs and see-you-next-Tuesdays. But the reasons people swear are surprisingly similar to your messaging goals. Here’s why.
You want to stand out
A well-placed expletive grabs attention. It’s one of the reasons we love them. But you don’t have to get your vocabulary from the gutter to achieve this effect. Choose words that are packed with meaning, satisfying-sounding syllables and emotion, and your message will be hard to ignore.
You want to grab attention
Even the most offensive words lose effect when we hear them too often. That’s why we keep inventing new ones (we’re far too polite to give examples – thankfully Buzzfeed saved us the trouble).
In business the same is true of clichés – the more we hear them, the less they register. But create new word combinations and you’ll stop your audience from drifting off.
You want to make yourself clear
Our favourite four-letter words are proof we don’t have to get fancy to make an impression. ‘I don’t give a duck*’ is about as straightforward as it gets. But it carries way more clout than ‘I couldn’t care a single iota’. Take note. Keeping language simple is good practice in every aspect of writing.
* Some words may have been changed to protect those of a sensitive disposition.
Anglo Saxon swear words are some of the best around. But the medieval knack for impact extends into customer-friendly language too. That’s because Anglo Saxon words tend to be shorter than their borrowed-from-French counterparts. And short words bring welcome pace to your copy. So choose ‘buy’ over ‘purchase’, ‘answer’ over ‘response’ and ‘end’ over ‘finish’.
You want to show personality
According to the documentary, Scots use swearing as a way to be expressive, identify themselves, distinguish themselves from others, and to be cool. And what brand doesn’t want that? OK, so profanity-filled copy isn’t the look your business is going for. But decide what you *do* want to say about yourselves. And then develop a tone of voice that makes it happen.
You want change
This one’s for you, challenger brands. Defining your own language rules is the linguistic equivalent of sticking two fingers up at the status quo. Scotland’s abundant expletives are a rejection of imposed rules. You can achieve the same effect by rejecting industry jargon and communicating on your own terms.
One thing to learn
The F-word defies linguistics. It’s a noun, verb and adjective. It pretty much works anywhere. Seriously, try it. But this word is the exception. Turning verbs into nouns will usually make you sound like an overpaid management consultant. Best avoided.
Unless irreverence is one of your brand pillars, you probably want to keep your brand copy clean. But don’t let that stop you from getting the benefits of a good ol’ expletive: go bold, be original, keep it simple and use stronger language.