Why Brands Should Avoid Slang

Slang isn’t “lazy speech”. It’s one of the ways a group forms a shared identity. So, brand managers may feel tempted to incorporate it into their brand’s verbal identity to score easy points with a particular demographic.

This will always end badly.

Slang operates on a unique set of social rules. It’s a specific and deliberate alteration unique to the subculture that creates it.

You already know that your child would be mortified if you try to talk to them in “their” slang. But you’d also be pretty shocked if your 8-year old asked you to action the key deliverables on their gym-kit cleanliness facilitation program.

This feeling can also extend to when a breakfast cereal starts talking street. Or a bank. Yes, we mean you, HSBC, and your memorable line “A kicking pair of trainers”.

Our training in linguistics shows how slang cements a familiarity between the speaker and their particular audience, but also a particular time and place. It isn’t exactly a dialect, or even a register of speech: It’s an “expansion pack” that attaches to normal language and can be altered or discarded as needed.

So unless slang forms a “core” part of a brand’s identity (which risks alienating everyone outside the “in group” anyway), trying to use it will fail. It may even prompt the people using the slang to change it, as a fight back against this cultural misappropriation.

We’ll let South Park show you this process in action:

You don’t have to actively debase yourself in order to make people like you anymore. What you will need, however, is a comprehensive strategy for a consistent, honest, and engaging verbal identity.

Y’all wanna hear more? Hit up my main man Chris for the lowdown, or drop me an e-mizzle to argue the finer points of argot.