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I noticed that some companies use the word brutal for marketing their products.

Examples:

  • brutal performance – a data storage software markets itself with this, they mean that their software is very fast
  • brutal engine – a car manufacturer uses this to indicate that their engine performs well

Obviously, the word has a negative meaning when generally speaking, but it seems to refer to strength or robustness (positive qualities) when speaking in a context of technology.

I heard from some people that they associate the word brutal with a negative meaning, so instead of interpreting these messages as how well these products perform, they associate this with bad quality.

So I’d like to know,

  • What’s the real meaning of this word in such a context?
  • Does it really have a side-meaning or a negative feeling in such contexts?
  • Is it okay to use this word as a marketing term to indicate that a product is of good quality and performs well?
  • What are the alternatives to this word in marketing which could be used to indicate good quality and performance?
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3  
Can you cite actual instances of the marketing usage of brutal instead of just claiming them? Context would help. –  Robusto Sep 9 '12 at 13:05
    
I think it would completely depend on the audience for the message whether brutal is understandable in the contexts you have given. It's possible that car-engine and computer experts use the term already, so the marketing people just picked up on that. –  JLG Sep 9 '12 at 15:26
    
@JLG - part of the question is whether or not this is actually the case. –  Venemo Sep 9 '12 at 16:34
    
@Matt Эллен - Why did you remove important parts of my question? –  Venemo Sep 13 '12 at 15:19
    
Stack Exchange encourages editing out such things. See this MSO post –  Matt Эллен Sep 13 '12 at 15:22

4 Answers 4

The use of brutal as a slang term for “excellent; powerful” is attested by the fourth (2007) edition of Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions by Richard A. Spears.¹

The example given by Spears is, “Man, what a brutal tune!” The connection his example makes between music and the slang term is no accident. The word is well known to heavy metal music lovers, among whom brutal is used to describe and admire a sub-genre of death metal with especially guttural vocals and heavy, unsophisticated instrumentation.²

By extension, brutal is now being to describe anything having an awe-inspiring extreme of raw, unsophisticated power. A Google search for [ brutal metal ] will unearth many uses. This usage is also reflected in several Urban Dictionary entries for “brutal”.³

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Would downvoter most kindly offer a constructive suggestion for improving the answer? –  MετάEd Sep 26 '12 at 19:28

Sparingly!

It might sound appealing to a suitably macho part of your audience as an indication of power or efficiency, but it will probably alienate some people due to its connotations of violence (brutality is seldom positive). Also, people who find the word itself neutral might still be put off by the target demographic they think is suggested by your choice of words (probably male adolescents).

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I was able to find a few instances of computer and car products being described as brutal:

one here:

Asrock 970 Pro3 promises brutal performance with 8-core AMD CPUs.

and another here:

The Mazda 6 MPS is a more refined, larger car that offers more space and luxury together with the brutal performance of it's [sic] turbocharged engine.

I'll point out that I had to wade through some irrelevant content (much of it using brutal with a negative connotation) in order to find these. You will also notice that these examples are not from major marketing campaigns. I also searched YouTube for "brutal performance" and got lots of hits for loud cars (most of the results were for rock music videos).

The intended meaning of brutal in these instances is probably some combination of strong and rugged, or perhaps even manly or interested more in power than the feelings of others. How it is actually interpreted will vary from person to person, but some people will probably receive a negative feeling from the word (I am reminded of a list of adjectives in Hobbes' Leviathan, "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short").

As for whether it is okay to use the word in marketing, that all depends on the image that you want to put forward. Sometimes a company is okay with being seen as focused on raw power rather than on other positive attributes (perhaps to attract customers who think, "I don't care if my engine is quiet, as long as it's fast!") In that case, I would say brutal is just fine to use.

Other words (possibly with different connotations) that might appear in similar marketing outlets are:

  • savage
  • beastly
  • unrestrained
  • rugged
  • powerful
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I think the companies mean to say that their products hold up under brutal conditions. In that case, strictly speaking, neither the software and nor the engine are brutal, they are robust, rugged, dependable, and reliable, able to hold up and operate under severe test and strain.

I checked a few online dictionaries, but couldn't find a meaning of brutal that meant "reliable" or "able to withstand brutal conditions." I think the usage is meant to be slangy and trendy, and the companies are relying on viewers and readers to make an adjustment - that is, to extend the definition of brutal to mean able to work in extreme conditions (or, put another way, to take a licking and keep on ticking).

For other candidate adjectives, I'd suggest using a thesaurus, and starting with rugged or dependable.

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