Dagnabbit: Why We Love Marketers Who Curse
We’ve been together for a while now, Marketing Blog readers. I’ve shared stories with you about business school, my surprise revelation that I’m an introvert, and other personal tidbits here and there. Here’s one that I hope won’t lower your opinion of me: I have a bit of a potty mouth.
My first instinct is to apologize for it. But then, I came across new research that shows a strong correlation between cursing and authenticity in character. If only I had known that when I was a rebellious teen and could have retorted, as my colleague Kierran Petersen suggested, “I’m being authentic, Mom!” But it’s true — the study showed a positive connection between profanity and honesty — on both a micro (individual) and macro (society) level.
I’ve seen real-life examples of this phenomenon. Gary Vaynerchuk — (in)famous for his profuse utterance of the “F” word in content and public appearances — has experienced tremendous success as a marketer. And Doug Kessler, creative director of the agency Velocity Partners, has given numerous presentations on the power of swearing in your marketing.
So how can this whole thing be executed without risking a loss of respect? And why are we so drawn to it, anyway? We had a look at some example and research, and drew some, er, freakin’ conclusions.
Note: This post was written with civility and respect in mind. Its intention is to explore the use and potential ROI of profanity in marketing, and is not meant to offend or suggest that this practice is mandatory.
A Bit About Cursing
Like any other word in a given language, curse words have their own history and etymology. My personal favorite, the “F” word, can be traced back to the 16th century and Germanic origin, most likely stemming from the Swedish word focka and Dutch fokkelen, the translation for both of which even I’m too bashful to share. But I will say this much — if you’re really curious about the etymology of your favorite curse words, chances are, the most literal meaning is at its root.
In 1999, researchers at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College were able to trace much of the psychology of cursing to the amygdala — a “mass of gray matter” in the brain that’s responsible for us experiencing emotions. When we hear profanity, the researchers realized, that part of the brain activates with the same response that we have to “linguistic threat.” In other words, we psychologically process profanity the same way we would verbal aggression.
But there’s a reason why profanity doesn’t exactly scare us. Because the amygdala also controls memory, the researchers also deduce two things: