Business·Analysis

Cursing in ads alienates some consumers while attracting others

There are many words you won't hear on the radio. But marketers are increasingly using those words in commercials.

Ads use swearing for emphasis, to attract a younger demographic

An Axe ad encouraging people to follow their passions used an f-bomb for emphasis. (courtesy Axe)

There are many words you won't hear on the radio, or network TV. But marketers are increasingly using those words in commercials.

As Axe deodorant customers age and move from being teenagers into careers, Axe ads are also evolving. In one of their recent Canadian ads, they replaced smirking frat boys objectifying women with entrepreneurs who succeed on their own terms.

Of course, because the target is still young men, something subversive is required. So Axe drops the f-bomb in the online ad.

Other marketers grab attention by using obscenities that don't require bleeping. Like this Ram truck ad from last year.

While most of us swear in real life, hardly anyone does in ads. Not only does that give naughty words shock value, it can also make them seem more authentic and down-to-earth.

When we hear ads using the same kind of language we use ourselves, we're more likely to believe the message and act on it.

But sometimes ads can sound like they're swearing without actually doing so — which makes it easier to get past censors. In this current ad, we see sports fans who booked an elaborate trip, only to see their team lose.

The consolation, of course, is that they still get to enjoy a fabulous hotel room.

Another example of simulated swearing is this ad in which two U.S. celebrities encourage kids to eat their fruits and vegetables, abbreviated as "FNV".

And finally, there are ads that beep out their own profanity so the ad still gets to run on TV, but viewers know what was said, as in this ad from earlier this year.

In each of these examples, the target audience is either young men, or young people in general who embrace graphic language.

While there may be older viewers who find such words offensive, these marketers have decided such viewers don't have enough revenue potential to worry about.


Bruce Chambers is a syndicated advertising columnist for CBC Radio. 

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