Swearing as Business Model – Bad Idea or Good For You?

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Image Credit: A Syn on Flickr

Anyone who knows me know I can out-swear any sailor, and be creatively obscene in the process. However, when it comes to speaking or writing in public, I very rarely use those blasted cusswords – yes, rarely, as I have on a few occasions let context be my excuse for a naughty syllable or two. I’m ok with swearing, and you would have to try really hard to offend me.

I have, therefore, mixed feelings when I see people in the marketing industry use swears as part of their business personality. I get that people want to have an edgy personal brand (speaking of obscene phrases), but when conducting business and attracting new clients, is it a wise idea?

There are several examples out there now, by people that I like and know do good work- to name three off the top of my head: Jason Falls, Gary Vaynerchuk and, a recent addition, former Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff.

These three guys have been reasonably successful, right? In fact, I was quite enamored of one of Bernoff’s posts, a rant on writing well in a business context that was detailed and practical. However, I was hesitant to share it, because I didn’t want to tweet the “BS” in the title of his blog. Thre are ways around it, of course, but it does create work for some people who don’t want to share the swears.

Still considering it? I’m not going to stop anyone, but here are some things I would consider if I were so inclined:

  • Is it really necessary? Can you get your point across without cussing? Yeah, I thought so. I generally can. In fact, it’s a good challenge to get around swearing by using more creative language. I don’t mean double entendres (or maybe I do- W.C. Fields was one of the best at getting around censors), I just mean trying a little harder to express yourself. The one thing that deflates Bernoff’s example is that swearing can be seen as lazy by a person who is actually giving very good advice on writing and messaging.
  • Does it fit your voice? If you have an edgy persona to your brand, whether it be a company or just you, I guess it can make sense. Vaynerchuk’s mouth has been ready for the soapdish since I can remember seeing him online and in person. Not only should it fit your brand, but it helps to be unapologetic- whatever your voice is, stand behind it. If you must swear, then make sure it is seen as part of you and not an attention-getting gimmick.
  • Will it affect your ability to attract customers? I feel that this is the biggest consideration. Is your image as a professional tarnished by a salty mouth? Are your clients- or the clients you want- put off or accepting of swearing? Why drive away business in the name of being cool? Even a brand with a much milder epithet, Gini Dietrich’s blog Spin Sucks (See? It’s mild; I typed it here so it must be OK), has suffered the occasional waggled eyebrow of propriety.
  • Do you have a flippin’ problem? What are you looking at? I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention.
  • Is it really necessary? This is worth asking again. If you’re really sure, go ahead, I guess.

So, hypocrite that I am, I am not a big fan of swearing-as-business. I’m not judging those who do  it, I just don’t see the point, most of time, of excluding certain valuable members of your business audience. Or maybe I’m just an old fuddy-duddy, or worse, a cotton-headed ninny muggins.

Whatever you decide for yourself: Good For You.

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5 Comments

  1. Very thoughtful Doug. I agree that gratuitous swearing is bad policy.

    In my case, my blog is about the bullshit we all deal with. Bullshit is the right word – all the substitutes are too pale. Sometimes the right word is a swear word.

  2. Doug Haslam

    Thanks Josh- I figured you would take this in the right spirit (if you hadn’t, well, bah humbug or something)

  3. John Johansen

    I think you hit it when you said swearing should add something, not just trying to grab attention. And, savvy readers can tell the difference.

    I’m not much for swearing – professionally or personally – but I’ve seen some good examples of swearing used to highlight the topic (especially if the writer is pointing out problems) rather than just personal branding.

  4. Totally agree. You know I can swear like a sailor without much provocation. But I also believe that swearing carries more weight when it is used sparingly. I agree with the examples you offer above – Dave McClure is another I’d mention. But relying on it too much can be lazy, too.

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