By Karen Axelton
A business magazine that my parents subscribe to has recently been sporting words like (how can I put this?) a three-letter synonym for “donkey” on its cover.
A couple weeks ago, one of the business e-newsletters I get sported a subject line with the acronym, “WTF?”
A few days later, I saw a TV commercial for a cordless charging pad for cellphones and the like. The product looked pretty cool, but the commercial was fascinating for another reason: It consisted of two twenty-something guys ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the charger, with each sentence liberally sprinkled with the F-word. The word was bleeped out, and a black “censor” bar appeared over each guy’s mouth when he said it, but that only had the effect of emphasizing it.
I watched with my mouth hanging open. My first thought was “I hope my 9-year-old never sees this commercial.” My second was “I hope my parents never see this commercial.” My third was “Boy, did this company’s ad agency rip them off!” Not only did the ad demonstrate a complete lack of creativity, but at the end, I was so distracted by the lingo that I had no idea what the product’s name was or where it was sold. (Turns out it was Best Buy.)
Does profanity have a place in advertising and marketing? You could argue that it attracts attention, that it mimics the way people truly talk, that it sparks controversy (and that that’s a good think in these viral-marketing times).
But is getting attention always a good thing? As my grandmother would have said: “Not if it’s the wrong kind of attention.”
Don’t get me wrong—I’ve been known to use some salty words myself. But there is a time and a place for everything, and in business, I think the “cons” of profanity outweigh the “pros.”
True, there may be some people in your target market who think bad language is cool, modern or daring. But there are also plenty who think it’s offensive (including some twenty-something guys). And plenty of others will read it as a desperate attempt to seem hip. Why risk turning off part of your audience—especially if you could be turning off the very group you’re trying to woo?
Perhaps I’m in the minority here, but I’m curious to hear what the rest of you think.