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all the languages has it’s words to swear, so why not to swear in advertising? All the foul language used in this post will be tactfully edited, using the appropriate symbols, But that’s not to say that your agency, client or brand should do that same. After all, we all have different personalities, and those should be upheld, whether they’re G rated, or R rated.
What’s Wrong With Swearing in Advertising:
So, let’s start with the most obvious question: what’s wrong with swearing in advertising? By all accounts, brands want to reach as many of their target audience as possible.
Swearing, or any kind of R rated material, puts limits on that reach. Or does it? If you’re a beer brand trying to identify with 20-30 something blue-collar guys, you can bet your bottom dollar these fellas curse more than the characters in a Scorsese movie. Is it wrong to say “this beer tastes f*#king great!” over “this is some great-tasting beer” when addressing this crowd?
Yes, people will take offense, but they’re not your target audience anyway. And if it is done correctly, in places where only adults can see it, where’s the harm? Clearly, that’s a bigger issue. Which is why there are several layers of swearing that advertisers use. It goes all the way from implication, to overt usage.
5 levels to Swear in Advertising:
1) Sounds Like Sit
The easiest way to swear in advertising is to make something rhyme with a swear word, and then use it in a way that the very same sweat word would be used. Virgin Airlines is notorious for this, with ads like “Sit. Shower. Shave.” and “Cheap Enough To Say, Phuket I’ll Go.” Everyone knows what they’re doing, and it is right on with the brand’s tone of voice.
If you have the kind of cheeky persona that Virgin has, you can definitely try the rhyming approach. Just remember, it takes skill to break rules, so do it well.
2) Just F&@#$*% Do It!
The cop out way to swear in advertising is to replace your offending words with symbols, which have been used to indicate swearing for eons.
The problem with this method is that it has no playfulness to it. It doesn’t show any kind of respect for the language, or the art of copy writing; you are simply swearing without literally writing the word. Use this one only as a last resort. And to be honest, even then your target audience will probably think you’re weak for not going all the way.
Also, Read: 7 Rookie Advertising Mistakes To Avoid
3) What The F…
This is another great way to get your point across without actually breaking any kind of profanity laws. When you stop short of saying the word, but use it in a sentence that everyone knows, you are putting that thought into your customer’s head. It’s almost like saying “don’t think of an elephant.” Obviously, you do. There are times and places when the omission of 90% of the word works wonders, especially in TV spots and radio ads. But even in print, it can be very effective.
4) Bleep the Bleeping Bleep
Perhaps the best use of the bleep comes not from an ad, but from Jimmy Kimmel’s Unnecessary Censorship videos. Not only is there no swearing due to the bleeps, there was NEVER any swearing. The bleeps take something that was PG, keep it PG, but make you think you’re hearing a string of major expletives. The bleep is a great way to trick people into thinking they heard swearing, when in actuality they didn’t hear any such thing. This is a great play when used on radio, TV and any kind of online experience.
5) Going All The Way
At times, you can actually get away with swearing. Entertainment companies can put our red band trailers and cuss all day long. If you have an age-gated website or social media account, you can also swear whenever you like, although do it sparingly. A sprinkle gets the point across, IF it’s appropriate to your brand. If it’s not, there’s no need to do it just to be edgy. And remember, you will get some backlash from the chosen few who like to speak up, so be prepared to respond with class. Telling them where to go is not going to help.