The advertising watchdog has banned a poster advertisement from shoe brand Volley, after receiving complaints about the ad’s references to the phrase ‘FUCK OFF’.
The billboard advertisement, which ran in late 2017, featured the phrase ‘FUCK OFF’ with a red line through the first word, along with an image of a hand sticking its middle finger up, according to Mumbrella.
It appears to be part of a broader campaign from Volley, which includes video commercial featuring a bunch of young people wearing shirts and shoes featuring the same phrase. One person in the advertisement raises their middle fingers multiple times.
One complaint against the advertisement claimed the billboard is “really not appropriate for a public space that is frequented by people of all ages. It doesn’t serve to advertise the products and is offensive in its language and lack of any sort of imagination”.
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
However, Volley responded to the complaints by arguing the word ‘fuck’ has entered common usage and no longer carries the profanity it used to. Additionally, the advertisement was targeted to older audiences where the word is more commonly used, the company said.
Nevertheless, the Advertising Standards Board (ASB) upheld the complaint on the grounds its content breached section 2.5 of the Advertiser Code of Ethics, which specifies advertisers must use language appropriate to the circumstances and avoid strong or obscure language.
“The [ASB] noted that it has consistently determined that the word ‘fuck’ is considered to be a strong and obscene term and is not appropriate in advertising that is likely to be seen by a broad audience which would include children,” the ASB said in its case report.
Volley terminated the advertisement prior to the ASB’s determination in December 2017. SmartCompany contacted Volley for further comment, but was directed to its response already provided to the Ad Standards Board.
Volley’s parent company Brand Collective has had a number of complaints upheld against their advertisements. In 2016 and 2017, complaints were upheld against Brand Collective for advertisements featuring nudity and references to sexuality.
Brands need to cover all bases
Nicole Reaney, director of Inside Out PR, says using swearing in advertising inevitably carries risk, and Volley’s branding is no exception. Despite Volley targeting a key demographic for its advertising, Reaney says advertisements can reach beyond such a group and provoke a negative response.
“Brands utilising swear words in campaigns are playing with risk and tempting adverse reactions,” she says.
“Companies should consider every person or community group that may sight the advertisement — beyond their direct target audience.”
Reaney accepts the use of swearing is accepted among some social groups, but brands are able to access these groups through other means of advertising or a more clever use of language. For example, clothing brand French Connection UK successfully uses the acronym ‘fcuk’ across its branding.
“Some companies have achieved it successfully — utilising it more as ‘tongue-in-cheek’ such as French Connection — however, outright profanity is set to cause offense.”