When sweary words work (this is a trick headline)

When sweary words work (this is a trick headline)





When sweary words work (this is a trick headline)


Tony Hallett
Managing director

Tony set up Collective Content in 2011 so brands can more easily become publishers and tell stories. This built on 15 years in media, from reporter to publishing director at Silicon Media Group, CNET Networks and CBS Interactive.

The short answer? They almost never do.

This post has in part been fast-tracked (I was writing it anyway) after the controversy around this video. It was pulled by YouTube last week then reinstated soon after. Understandably, some people don’t like little girls swearing. But the bigger point is that sexism and crimes against women and girls are much worse problems. Get those priorities right, right?

But the video comes from an organisation that fights all kinds of injustice. Its name is FCKH8.com. See what they did there, with their name? We call out this org and video as an exception to the rule because they make it work. Just.

How about others?

We often tell people we write for or help to write to be authentic. For some, that means talking in a down-to-earth way. And let’s be honest, some are really sweary in real life.

But does that translate well in their blogging, for example? Not usually. The reason is that most readers won’t know them. The swearing comes across as affected, maybe offensive and almost certainly as extra verbiage (when we also preach getting to the point).

But this goes further than language used in content. A number of organisations have sweary names, I guess to cut through the clutter of much modern blandness and also to be memorable.

On Facebook, thousands of people routinely like or share posts by ‘I fucking love science’. (IFLScience in its cleaned-up guise. TFI Friday.) How does aunt Mary feel about seeing that? That’s part of the point, especially if she, say, doesn’t believe in evolution or global warming.

Or how about cooling a room in the summer by shopping from Big Ass Fans? I kind of like their style and the products look OK too.

I’m also, on the whole, in favour of the campaigning organisation Fuck Cancer. It sets out to educate the world that 90 per cent of cancers are curable in stage one, so act early. (They let others go about finding a cure.)
Like most people who have lost loved ones to the disease, I often think those very words. But for all their good work, all their education-plus-humour, I can’t help think that name won’t take them as far as they’d hope. Even their URL gets diluted to letsfcancer.com.

Here’s what they say:

Why fuck? (Ed: Pretty sure they should change that to ‘Why ‘fuck’?’)
It’s a head-in-your-hands moment. It’s not sexual or violent; it’s defeated and defiant. Using these two words together gives cancer the visceral response it deserves. Taking such a private word into the public space is powerful. If there’s ever a time to use “Fuck,” it’s now.

You buy that? On many levels it works. But I’m still dubious about all the places where they can’t use their name. Or families who don’t want kids to be around something as basic as their website on a shared iPad. Though that’s probably not an issue for the potty-mouthed princesses or even some children I know.

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