Effective Copywriting to Swear By

Red background with expletives

I don’t watch TV much. In fact, until recently I just assumed that Joey Essex was David’s younger brother. But one evening a few weeks back, something did make me raise my head above my laptop and it had nothing to do with celebrities or dancing or ice. There I was, furiously typing away about warehouse packaging when an advert for red tractor pork caught my attention. It was their slogan Give a Fork about Your Pork that caught me unaware. ‘Did they just…’, I thought to myself. And yes, they did. The campaign alluded to a swear word in their slogan and you know what? It worked – it got my attention.



Advertising Standards Authority


So, after a bit of research, I was surprised to find that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) had only received three complaints about the slogan, none of which were upheld. But why was I surprised by this? Well, I don’t really know, I suppose I just expected more people to have found the pork advert distasteful (boom-boom-ch).


Turning the Air Blue


According to a survey conducted back in 2009, British people swear on average, 14 times a day, so maybe it’s no wonder that the Red Tractor advert only received three complaints? But then again, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself because the slogan doesn’t actually contain any swear words, it only alludes to a word that sounds similar to one.


There definitely seems to be a trend of using provocative language in advertising these days. Who remembers Burger King’s ‘King Great’ adverts in 2010 when their campaign generated 52 complaints for using the phrases ‘King tasty’, ‘King delicious’ and ‘King great’. And their internet audio campaign featured a conversation that began: ‘Oh officer don’t give us a ticket, I was just getting some king lunch,’ with the officer replying: ‘I can see that and it looks king good.’


And then there’s The Sofa King’s infamous ‘Sofa King Good’ strapline that caused a furore when it first appeared in the Northampton Herald and Post in 2012. The slogan, which had been used by the store since it began trading in 2004, was eventually banned by the ASA and deemed ‘offensive and unsuitable for general display’ because of its playful word arrangement. And even global airline companies aren’t averse to a little implied swearing in their adverts as Virgin’s ‘Sit, Shower, Shave’ waiting lounge billboard hit the headlines in 2001. Speaking of airlines, there seems to be a trend of companies dropping the occasional ‘F-bomb’ (or should that be ‘P-bomb’) into their copy as Air Asia’s 2008 ‘Cheap Enough to Say Phuket I’ll Go’ campaign hit billboards all over the world.


Implied Swearing – Clever or Crude


But as we all know, there’s no such thing as bad press these days right? So, ultimately Burger King and Sofa King’s campaigns achieved what they set out to do – they got people talking about their brands. But what makes these adverts delightfully interesting to a copywriter is that they’re clever rather than crude. Their double meanings make for smart marketing and when the reader ‘gets it’ the advert creates a greater appreciation, almost like a private joke. And then there are the companies who are perhaps less subtle, but no less successful in promoting their brand through swearing like French Connection’s ‘cool as fcuk’ campaign in the early noughties. But as tiresome as quirky T shirt slogans can be, the one thing that rings true is that as consumers, we love the occasional use of fruity language in advertising.


Downright Sweary


But what about those companies who have built their brands around being slightly anti-establishment?  Last year, Scottish-based craft brewery BrewDog found themselves on the wrong (or should that be right) side of the ASA  over a description they placed of their brand on their own website. Describing themselves as ‘a post-punk apocalyptic mother fu*ker of a craft brewery’, the ASA deemed the website copy ‘generally regarded as highly offensive and unlikely to be acceptable in marketing communications.’ They ruled that the web page should not appear again in that form and added ‘we considered that the other language used on the page, such as corporate beer whores, was also likely to cause serious offence to some people.’ But how much damage do these headlines really do to a brand’s reputation? In BrewDog’s case, probably none.


As consumers, we like clever slogans and if they make us think, they add to our appreciation of the product, service or cause. That’s why in most cases, it’s important that when we use swear words in slogans, cleverness needs to take precedence over offence if a campaign is going to have an impact.


And on that note, did anyone notice how I managed to write a blog post about bad language without actually swearing myself, once? What do you reckon? Are we becoming more accepting of swear words in advertising? Can you think of any other campaigns that have cleverly used swearing to grab our attention?


Jamie Thomson

Jamie Thomson is an award-winning senior copywriter and the owner Brand New Copy copywriting studio. With over 15 years professional writing experience, he helps companies engage with their target audience through tailored content strategies and exceptional copywriting.

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