Are You Cool Enough to Use Slang in Your Marketing?

Slang in marketingIf you’re asking and not just doing, the answer is quite probably no.

Take it from me: I’m 26 years old and I cringe at a lot of the things the yoof say these days. And I cringe even harder at the brands trying to keep up with them.

Talking to young people

My day gig is writing content for a brand aimed at under-25s. I see a hundred #swags, a thousand #squads and a million #goals every day. That’s how it feels, anyhow.

So – do I try to speak the language? Do I attempt to ingratiate myself with the in-crowd, like an unpopular kid at the school disco? Like the ‘cool mum’ who thinks she’s friends with her children’s mates?

No. It wouldn’t work.

As my boss is very, very fond of saying: “If we try to be cool, we’ll end up looking like Dad dancing at a wedding.”

Teenagers can sniff out culture imposters like hungry bloodhounds, and they’ll turn their backs so fast they’ll pull a muscle.

How not to do it

I got very excited recently when I learned a new bon mot from one of our followers on Facebook. He called me ‘M9’. Well, I obviously had to Google it, and Urban Dictionary informed me that it was like ‘M8’ (mate) but – better? Because, like, nine is better than eight?

Having tucked this gem into my knitting bag with a delighted chuckle, I was hard-pushed not to start liberally sprinkling it about. BUT I held back because I am not an 18-year-old young man with a penchant for motorsports and grime. That word, though glorious, doesn’t belong to me.

Avoid at all costs unless you are ASOS, in which case you’d be left with no words at all:

  • On fleek – “Eyebrows on fleek ?”
  • YOLO – “Paycheck gone in one day #YOLO” (NO ONE says this anymore)
  • Goals – “Those two are relationship goals”
  • Swag – “Check out these new booty shorts #swag”
  • Squad – “The Yell.com blogger team is my squad”
  • Selfie – “Share your best selfie to win!” (no. plz stop. plz.)
  • Bae – “Recruitment software is bae”

How to do it

Use words you would usually use in your everyday pub session – not accusing you of going to the pub every day – so what you’re publishing sounds as natural and genuine as possible. If you wouldn’t usually tell your friend their new highlights are fire, please don’t allow that to come out of your company’s digital mouth either.

Want to get down with the kids? Employ kids. Seriously: if your target audience, through social media and content marketing especially, is under-20s, you need to be asking under-20s to do it.

(I am aware that at this point I have done myself out of a job. I know I’m a year older than our target audience and am therefore over the hill, but I’ve been managing the tone of voice since I was 24 so… Lay off.)

My point? Ah yes, I had one here somewhere, under the cat biscuits and cardigans. My point goes thusly: only young people are allowed to speak young people speak to young people. Your 48-year-old office manager is not the perfect selection for handling your social media if you want to be engaging young adults. ‘Fraid not, Greg. Back to the supply cupboard you go.

A lot of brands are doing it wrong


M&S could not be further from down with the kids. They are firmly up-top with the grannies. Perhaps a stray 25-year-old will wander in looking for tights (and leave because they cost a tenner) but they are not on the cutting edge of youth linguistics.

Ask yourself this (because M&S clearly didn’t): why are these children holding signs saying LOL and BFF? What conversation are they having? What does it mean? Do children this young actually say these things that have traditionally belonged to their millennial parents? Why has this happened?

Stick to what you own

If you and your target audience would usually use words like sick, gnarly and copacetic or dandy, peachy and cobblers, you go for it. You do you.

If either party would not engage in parlance like that, avoid. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Stick to language you and your audience would normally use at the pub. Ban the bae. Click To Tweet