Over the last few months, I have seen many articles advocating the use of swearing in advertising. While swearing, can be a powerful tool. It is not something that I would advocate using without seeking professional advice. Particularly if the general public could access the advert.
Where guidelines on this issue can be rather vague, established precedent is more specific. You cannot swear where children, vulnerable and impressionable adults, can see it. Nor in a context that may cause alarm or offence.
Should you choose to use swearing, make sure that you have considered the context in which it's used. The product or service it is in relation to. As well as the chosen medium, its reach and the audience who will viewing it. Then estimate what the potential damage to your business could be. As well as the possible public reactions.
Even though some humorous use of swearing has used before. Other attempts have fallen foul of the regulators. For instance. French Connection used 'FCUK' as a high profile brand identity in the 1990’s. While they also used FCHK and FCUS, it was the FCUK logo that gained worldwide popularity. Yet, this popularity did not extend into the 21st century. While swearing maybe used as bit of a joke. Advertising for the ‘UNT mug’ fell flat on its face. (Google images for the ‘UNT mug’ to see why.)
“But it's only on my social media."
"It's only for limited circulation."
"Who’s going to notice?”
These are some of the excuses I have heard. None of these justify poor and inappropriate choices of words in your advertising.
If you are convinced that this is the route for you. There are some items to consider.
1. The UK Code of Advertising Practice, covers web-based media. This including websites, social media and online video.
You are just as liable for an obscure web ad on your site, as for a national TV advertising campaign.
2. You are still liable, even if someone else shares your material.
If you get your advert right, people will want to share it. Will your advert be compliant with the obscenity laws of other English speaking countries? Could it cause offence to other races or cultures?
3. It takes only one complaint to have an advert taken down.
That's right, just one single complaint. You had better be sure of your audience.
Why are you making an advert if no one is going to notice? The whole point of advertising is to attract attention, to get noticed. Hiding an advert where only a select few can see it is a waste of time, money and resources.
Would I recommend that a client uses swearing in an advert?
Generally no. It mostly fails to achieve its objective. Currently too many are attempting to use this technique inappropriately. Which means the conditions that would make such an advert outstanding; do not exist at this time. Swearing no longer has the impact to gain the notoriety that is required for it to succeed. You will only be seen as copying a trend, not as the trendsetter.
Have I ever used such techniques? Yes. But that was in different time and a different place. When there was no Internet and values were different.
I would suggest that the pundits advocating the use of swearing in advertising. Are not the ones who will suffer the consequences if things go wrong.
Gavin Bryan-Tansley - Vid-FX+ Advertising