What Donald Trump, Soda, and Scottish Swear Words Can Teach Us About Writing for Regional Audiences

The best-laid plans of mice and men aft gang agley—but MarketSmiths' first Scots recruit explains how incorporating regional speech into your ad copy can be an asset to your campaign.

The label of a Scottish soft drink called Irn Bru

As MarketSmiths first Scottish recruit, there are plenty of Britishisms I’m being forced to flush from my system as I adapt to life stateside. The urge to spell “color” with a U, for example, or remembering that my trousers are actually “pants”, and my underwear are not pants. A few slipups are forgivable, but others have the potential to leave me decidedly red in the face.

I get the impression that my colleagues find me quaint. But they at least understand the gist of what I’m saying–the language we speak is still fundamentally the same, after all. It certainly helps that British television shows like Sherlock and Downton Abbey have found massive audiences in the US, meaning many Americans are perfectly familiar with our funny accents and slang.

Well, they’re familiar with English slang. But I’m not English.

Aye, the braw Scots hae wir ain wee language whit we use tae blether. Dae ye ken whit a mean? (Translation: Yes, the fine Scottish people have our own little language that we use to talk. Do you understand what I mean?)

It was brought to my attention how little of the Scots dialect is fathomable to an American audience during a conversation about Donald Trump’s visit to Scotland in June. Mere hours after Scots voted overwhelming to stay in the EU during the controversial Brexit vote, Trump demonstrated the pitfalls of misreading regional sentiment in glorious fashion when he tweeted that we were “going wild” over the decision to leave. Amongst the myriad of well-crafted insults hurled his way, several disgruntled Scots called him a word we’re all very familiar with: “bawbag”.

My colleagues stared at me blankly when I mentioned this. They did not know what a “bawbag” was. (Excuse my language–it’s a scrotum.)


Image: Victoria Reay


The Best-laid Schemes Gang Aft Agley (Often Go Wrong)

This got me thinking about how easy it is to make faux pas when writing for a regional audience that isn’t your own. As Mr. Trump’s Twitter mishap made clear, the prevailing opinion of a region may be drastically different from that of the nation as a whole. Furthermore, words can have an entirely different (sometimes even contradictory) meaning from one region to another, even when the language spoken is the same. To use another somewhat crude example, the word “rubber” is used to describe an eraser in Scotland, where the slang term for condoms is “johnnies”. A little research goes a long way.

On the other hand, getting immersed in regional dialect and humor can be a great way to endear your target audience to your writing. It’s like secret code to get into a private club, and leaves the reader feeling welcome and understood.

The marketing campaigns run by Scottish fizzy juice (translation: soda) company Irn Bru utilize this strategy frequently, and to great effect. Irn Bru is a violently orange soft drink which tastes a little like cream soda mixed with Coca Cola, while also tasting like nothing else you’ve ever put in your mouth. It’s so popular in Scotland it outsells Coca Cola. Though it’s also sold elsewhere, its advertising frequently utilizes Scottish accents, slang, and cheeky sense of humor, making it a hometown hero of a brand.


Don’t Be a “Bampot”

Irn Bru’s advertising appeals to Scots because it’s authentic. It speaks to us on a level that ads written in standardized English do not–the language is playful, and we’re in on the joke. Trump failed to win us over in part because he was entirely inauthentic. He tried to speak for us about our struggle, claiming we “took [our] country back,” while seeming ignorant to Scotland’s own struggle for independence from England, not to mention pro-immigrant sentiment in the country after Brexit.

In other words, he was being a total bampot, tube, numpty, and fanny (all slang for idiot). Right aff his heid, basically.

If you want to ensure your marketing is always authentic, MarketSmiths can help.

Samantha McLaren

Samantha McLaren

Having worked as a ghost tour guide for five years, Samantha knows how to get a reaction using only words. Hailing from bonny Scotland, she spent years gathering weird, eclectic experience (from laboratory assistant to radio DJ to Sunday school teacher) before finding her true calling–writing. She came to New York to see what MarketSmiths could teach her, and never left. Copywriter by day, amateur horror writer by night, she has a passion for words and is drawn to the strange and unusual.

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