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Marketing profanity filter: Are these words offensive?

Marketing profanity filter

by Randy Mitchell, Creative Director

This morning a coworker surprised me with an unexpected remark. “I never hear you swear,” she declared. “Do you ever use profanity?”

That started the thought train rolling.

I definitely try to have my personal profanity filter on at all times. However, I am guilty of using marketing profanity on a daily basis.

What is marketing profanity? That’s simply my name for words that have somehow become offensive. In most cases, these terms were perfectly acceptable five years ago, but now, they have crossed the line into the unspeakable category.

I’d like to share a few surprising examples. We’ll even run these words through our state-of-the-art marketing profanity filter to see how they rate.


It has become a bad thing in certain circles to call someone a copywriter. Instead, she might be a content writer, social media writer or simply a marketing writer.

What makes the term copywriter so wrong all of the sudden? That’s hard to say. My own hypothesis is that a copywriter actually tries to sell things with no apologies. Sometimes, the approach is humorous. Other times it’s jarring or provocative. But in every case, the copy is boldly promoting a product or service.

In this more enlightened age of educational content, copywriting is viewed with the same suspicion and contempt as a carnival shell game. Well, if that truly is the new marketing reality, I am a proud charlatan. Copywriting is still a critical part of our industry. It serves a vital role on the customer journey, just like content development, social post writing and strategic plans.

Marketing profanity filter rating: Not offensive, use it. And long live the copywriter.

“Direct marketing”

For decades, there was a fine and influential organization known as the Chicago Association of Direct Marketing. Alas, that proud title is uttered no more. The organization itself is still going strong, but its name has been truncated to “CADM.”

At first glance, this transition would seem natural given the abbreviated communication style fostered by texting and Twitter. But brevity didn’t drive the change. Instead, switching to CADM allowed the organization to exorcise the term “direct marketing” from its title.

Excuse me, but what is so wicked about direct marketing? It merely means communications that tell the target exactly how to respond. All of the other marketing disciplines eventually came to realize the value of this response-driven thinking, but they rarely attributed it to its origin in direct marketing.

Here’s the bottom line: If you want leads you need the prospect to take action, and that is the essence of direct marketing.

Marketing profanity filter rating: Not offensive, use it. But be prepared to explain that direct marketing is more than direct mail.

“Creative brief”

We’ve saved the best for last.

The term “creative brief” is a lightning rod that is often accompanied by some genuine profanity. Some marketers have abandoned the cursed brief altogether because they see it as archaic, restrictive or simply not relevant in a digital age. Others use it on an as-needed basis, meaning only for big campaigns or product launches.

Guess what? Good creatives still love that much maligned brief. It doesn’t handcuff us. On the contrary, it grounds our work in the reality of the business challenge.

Marketing profanity filter rating: Offensive to some, use with caution. May upset those who are assigned to write the creative brief.

Whew. Deep breath.

We made it through without offending anyone, I hope. Stay tuned. I’m sure we’ll break out the marketing profanity filter for some new terms in the near future.