Fcuk Consumer Research: on Disgust, Revulsion and Other Forms of Offensive Advertising

ABHORRENT ABSTRACT - Warhol was wrong. Far from being famous for fifteen minutes, advertisers are currently enjoying their fifteen minutes of infamy. Inspired by the provocative escapades of Benetton, Calvin Klein and French Connection amongst many others, contemporary advertising campaigns seem determined to affront and offend the consuming public. This paper offers a typology of offensive advertising; attempts to account for the rise of provocative promotions; and contends that the growth of gross-out should be celebrated rather than condemned.



Citation:

Stephen Brown and Hope Schau (2001) ,"Fcuk Consumer Research: on Disgust, Revulsion and Other Forms of Offensive Advertising", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Andrea Groeppel-Klien and Frank-Rudolf Esch, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 61-65.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2001      Pages 61-65

FCUK CONSUMER RESEARCH: ON DISGUST, REVULSION AND OTHER FORMS OF OFFENSIVE ADVERTISING

Stephen Brown, University of Ulster, United Kingdom

Hope Schau, Temple University, U.S.A.

ABHORRENT ABSTRACT -

Warhol was wrong. Far from being famous for fifteen minutes, advertisers are currently enjoying their fifteen minutes of infamy. Inspired by the provocative escapades of Benetton, Calvin Klein and French Connection amongst many others, contemporary advertising campaigns seem determined to affront and offend the consuming public. This paper offers a typology of offensive advertising; attempts to account for the rise of provocative promotions; and contends that the growth of gross-out should be celebrated rather than condemned.

OFFENSIVE OPENING

'Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuckety-fuck’. As every movie-buff knows, the foregoing orgy of expletives is the first line of the smash-hit, feel-good, happy-clappy family film, Four Weddings and a Funeral. The line, admittedly, is not in the same league as 'Here’s looking at you, kid’, 'Tomorrow is another day’, 'Hasta la vista, baby’ or, indeed, 'To infinity and beyond’. But few would deny that it is remarkably resonant, well nigh unforgettable. More remarkable still is the fact that forty years after Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned for its use of the F-word, it now takes eight fucks to do the work of one and, even then, the word itself has almost ceased to offend. As Sheidlower (1995, p. ix) archly observes in his cultural history of swearing, 'the F-word is increasingly heard in the best-regulated living rooms’.

If fuck and its cognates are now considered innocuous, bordering on refined, the same cannot be said of FCUK. An acronym for French Connection Unied Kingdom, a fashion-forward clothing retailer, it was coined in 1997 by ace advertising copywriter, Trevor Beattie (Hellen and Prescott 2000). The ensuing campaign, consisting largely of billboards emblazoned with 'fcuk me’, 'fcuk fashion’ and analogous semi-offensive bylines, not only stopped traffic and stimulated a flood of complaints, but it was formally censured by the Advertising Standards Authority, the industry’s official UK watchdog (Sherwin 1999). More to the point perhaps, it helped double the company’s pre-tax profits; it propelled French Connection to the cutting edge of coolness (especially when the agency responded to the ASA with a 'fcuk advertising’ poster); and it was latterly lauded as one of the greatest advertising campaigns of the late twentieth century (Doward 1999; Redhead 2000). Whatever fcuking next?

French Connection, to be sure, is not alone. As the 21st century dawns, it seems that advertising is immired in a pit of profanity and disgust is the name of the game (Jensen and Askegaard 1998; Wheeler and Day 2000). Far from turning over a new and improved leaf, today’s advertisers are engaged in an offensive offensive, a full-frontal attack, an enfilade of effluent. Although we reputedly live in a brave new world of relationship marketers, green consumers and socially-conscious custodians of brand spirit, it looks as though advertising’s top minds are on lower things. Much lower. Positively Palaeozoic. These days, advertisers don’t so much wear their hearts on their sleeves as wipe their noses on them. Differentiation is giving way to defecation. Positioning is mutating into propositioning. Purulence is advertisers’ argot of choice, and blasphemy their byword. Or so it appears.

The purpose of the present paper, then, is to examine the recent rise of revolting advertising and to account for its prevalence. It commences with an attempted typology of offensive adverts; continues with a consideration of possible causal factors, both micro- and macro-; and concludes with a brief discussion of the major research issues arising. This paper, it must be stressed, does not claim to the last word on offensiveness, nor even the F(irst) word. But it does come with a 'Parental Advisory, Explicit Lyrics’ sticker. Be warned.

CLASSIFYING CRAPULENCE

Although the FCUK campaign offended a nation in 1997, it has long since been eclipsed by the shock troops of advertising. In the holy city of Jerusalem, for example, an advertising campaign for Chacko, a chain of fast food restaurants, boasts the all but blasphemous byline, 'Who the fuck is Chacko?’. Diesel apparel, meanwhile, features four young, rosary-reciting nuns wearing blue jeans made of 'pure virginal 100 per cent cotton’. The British Safety Association, a quasi-government body, promotes safe sex with a leaflet depicting the Pope alongside the strap-line, 'Eleventh Commandment, thou shalt wear a condom.’ Virgin Megastore employs images of Mary, mother of God, to help move a few more CDs and computer games. And, Carlsberg reminds drinkers of its famous Danish lager that 'There’s no Room at the Inn’.

As fast moving consumables go, however, Carlsberg is a veritable angel of virtue. Budweiser gathers clan couch potato, complete with lolling tongues, rolling eyes and traditional pre-game salutation, Wassup. An Australian manufacturer of laxative chocolate claims to be 'The Thunder from Down Under’. Arizona’s anti-smoking campaign shows a teenage girl supping from her boyfriend’s soda container in a darkened movie theatre, only to discover that it is full of cigarette spittle and bronchial mucus. A TV ad for AM-PM convenience stores stresses the sheer revoltingness of its 59-cent hot dogs, as does the 'messy burger’ campaign for Carl’s Jr., a Californian fast food chain, which rejoices in the sublime slogan, 'if it doesn’t get all over the place, it doesn’t belong in your face’. Sony cellular, similarly, parades a cavalcade of three smartly dressed female executives, with disgustingly misapplied make up, nauseatingly untrimmed nasal hair and revoltingly ketchup-stained chin respectively. Not to be outdone, the Six Flags theme park feels that the best way to advertise its monster roller coaster is to depict a satisfied customer vomiting into a trashcan. In glorious technicolour.

Above and beyond bad language, blasphemy and bodily functions, advertising’s offensives (as creatives are presumably known nowadays) are not averse to sexism, lewdness and libidinal overkill (Chittenden and Saner 2000; Holgate 2000; Tompkins 2000). A Europe-wide campaign for Gossard lingerie announces, 'Who said a woman can’t get pleasure from something soft?’. Tour operator Club 18-30 promises 'Beaver Espa┬▒a’, alongside photographs of bulging male crotches and the less than subtle strap-line, 'Ladies, can we interest you in a package holiday?’. Levi’s relaunches its 'twisted seam’ jeans with an appropriately warped campaign featuring disembodied denims frolicking, fondling and fornicating in public places. Bol.com, an online bookstore, follows suit with naked bibliophiles wrapped up in a hardcover, whilst wrapped around each other. Organics Shampoo shows a stunning redhead peering down the front of her bikini bottoms, in order to prove that it 'keeps hair colour so long, you’ll forget your natural one’. Luxury confectioner Suchard advertises its mouth-watering chocolates with the aid of a naked woman, provocatively posed, and the worrisome words, 'You say no; we hear yes’. The Nordica mobile phone company pictures an inflatable sex doll alongside the assertion that 'your girlfriend will be open-mouthed’. And, who can forget Calvin Klein’s infamous 'kiddie pornography’ campaign of 1995, which courted free publicity through questionable allusions to underage sex, only to incur the incandescent wrath of concerned parents worldwide? Benetton, of all companies, purported to be outraged by the tastelessness of CK’s 'cheesy eight-millimetre porn film’.

Happy though advertisers are to wallow in the marketing mire, it is evident that several different offensive dimensions are being exploited (Barnes and Dotson 1990; Vezina and Olivia 1997). A typology of tastelessness is necessary and, purely for the purposes of explication, a 4Cs classification can be tentatively identified.

Carnal pertains to sexually explicit or sexploitative campaigns, such as Renault’s claim that 'size matters’; Pretty Polly’s apparent paean to female masturbation, 'Go on, treat yourself’; and shirt-maker Van Heuston’s contention that a man is not a man without fifteen and a half inches to play with.

Corporeal refers to bodily fluids, fecal matter and analogous unmentionable natural functions. These range from Marks & Spencer’s distastefl depictions of half-eaten left-overs, through Supernoodles’ suggestion that plates should be licked clean rather than washed, to the Red Bull drinker’s shit-for-shat response to an avian incontinence incident.

Creedal comprises offences against religious beliefs, broadly defined, or widely accepted societal norms. Benetton’s notorious nun-kissing-priest poster epitomises the former and their 'condemned to die’ montage of death row incumbents is an interesting example of the latter (inasmuch as many Americans believe in capital punishment and are affronted by the company’s ill-considered support for convicted killers).

Cultural, finally, offends against the canons of aesthetic taste, as in a recent 'Reassuringly Expensive’ campaign by Stella Artois. This portrays beer bottles being opened on top-of-the-range consumer durables B BMW Roadster, Sony Digital Betacam, Saladino glass table, Gibson semi-acoustic guitar B though the resultant scratches are not so much reassuringly expensive as deeply offensive. For some consumers, at least.

REVOLTING REASONS

While a classification of crapulence can help researchers comprehend the sheer scale of advertisers’ offensive ambitions, it does not explain why they choose to do so. Clearly, any attempted explanation cannot be incontrovertibly proven, not least because advertisers themselves may be incapable of articulating their revolting rationale. Nevertheless, it can be tentatively hypothesised that both micro-scale (industry specific) and macro-scale (broader environmental) factors are at work. With regard to the former, four main reasons for the rise of revulsion can be posited. The first of these is that offensiveness is effective. At a time when consumers are bombarded day and daily by countless commercial messages B most of them safe, sanitised and deadly serious B blasphemy, ribaldry and scatology stand out from the crowd in all their gory glory. In the words of new wave advertising gurus, Bond and Kirshenbaum (1998), outrageousness gets 'under the radar’, the mental screen that today’s sated shoppers use to filter unwanted marketing communications. And, if proof be needed, one need only note that the in-your-face advertising of Carl’s Junior led to unprecedented increases in traffic and transactions, reversing the Anaheim based company’s five-year slide in sales (Stevens 1997). Likewise, Calvin Klein’s kiddie pornography prompted a six fold increase in jeans sales among the target market segment, who rebelliously revelled, as teenagers are wont to do, in their guardians’ moral outrage (Schroeder 2000). If it works, in other words, why not?

Second, offensiveness is efficient. Abominable ads not only stand out from the complaint commercial crowd but almost always stimulate a (horrified) second look, a (disgusted) double-take that sends 'frequency’ figures skyrocketing, for starters (to say nothing of 'gross rating points’). Granted, the second glance is often reluctant, the double-take virtually involuntary, but this merely confirms offensive advertising’s remarkable ability to stop ’em in their tracks. Its impact, in effect, rests upon the admittedly paradoxical psychology of disgust, which comprises a strange combination of repulsion and attraction. William Miller, a leading academic authority on distasteful behaviour, contends that we are mesmerised by the mephitic, fascinated by the fetid, hopelessly drawn to the distasteful. We can’t bear to look, yet can’t bear not to look at, say, horror movies, auto accidents, fist fights or bodily waste, especially our own. 'Even as the disgusting repels,’ he says, 'it rarely does so without capturing our attention. It imposes itself upon us’ (Miller 1997, p. x).

A striking example of this repulsion-attraction quality is found in a Singaporean magazine advertisement for Spin washing powder, which portrays a pair of soiled underpants alongside an invitation to scratch ’n’ sniff (Saunders 1996). One’s total revulsion at the very idea is immediately followed by a spontaneous sense of curiosity, a mental race through the moral and mechanical possibilities ('Surely they haven’t gone that far, have they?’ 'If they can reproduce eau-de-cologne, can they replicate the repugnant?’ 'Dare I test it?’) No less magnetic in its repulsiveness is the much-cited 'disembowelled shark’ shocker of Kadu, an Australian clothing manufacturer (Saunders 1996). The ad’s infamy is largely attributable to its timing, since it appeared at the same time as two fatal shark attacks B to a predictable torrent of mass media outrage B but its impact is almost entirely due to the arrestingly revolting imagery. A great white shark’s technicolour innards ooze across a wooden quayside. The masticated contents include a semi-digested human corpse and immaculately indigestible Kadu beachwear. Tough clothes, indeed!

Third, offensiveness is cheap (as well as nasty). As the Kadu controversy indicates, there’s nothing quite like provocative advertising to attract the attention of news-hungry media. Sensationalism, alas, sells newspapers, attracts audiences and provides endless opportunities for sanctimonious, space-filling op-eds. A product or service can thus be publicised for next to nothing. When salaciousness is on offer, so it seems, minuscule advertising budgets can stretch a very long way indeed. Take Benetton, perhaps the most infamous exponent of unexpurgated advertising (Carroll 2000; Falk 1997; Mantle 1999). The company grabbed headline after headline, generated affronted editorial after affronted editorial, and garnered sale after sale B at least initially B with its wilfully offensive images of human immiseration, tastefully interspersed with collages of multi-coloured condoms, a rogues’ gallery of male genitalia, the stark naked posturing of Luciano Benetton and, lest we forget, scandalous shots of a shot soldier, a car bombing and a dying AIDS victim. All on a Lilliputian advertising spend of $5.6 million. French Connection, similarly, offended all and sundry for less than ,1.5 million, most of which was recouped through the sale of 150,000 'fcuk me’ T-shirts, and Calvin’s kiddie campaign captured the front pages of both the Washington Post Style section and the Business section of the New York Times. Most advertisers would cut off their right arms for that kind of media exposure, though dismemberment might not be sufficiently newsworthy these degenerate days.

Fourth, like it or loathe it, offensiveness is easily emulated. A copy-cat element is clearly at work. Many corporations, so it seems, are content to follow Benetton’s feculent lead. When the sewer’s the place to be, there’s no shortage of wannabe sewer-rats determined to out-plumb each others’ depths of degradation (Marconi 1997). Hence, sheets of extra-soft toilet tissue are attached to magazine adsfor a Citroen sports car, which guarantees a 'positively sphincter twitching 0-60 in 7.2 seconds’; a child relieves itself in the street to remind British dog-owners of their rectal responsibilities; a dead horse hangs from a hook, thereby promoting animal welfare; a single raised digit, the international sign language of obscenity, helps sell cheap cigars; a naked woman is tied to a chair with items of clothing from the 'slightly twisted’ Full Circle range; the Vegetarian Society articulates its 'much easier not to eat meat’ message with photographs of operation scars labelled 'stomach cancer’, 'throat cancer’, 'bowel cancer’; a man is kicked viciously in the crotch for borrowing his girlfriend’s Nissan without permission; the naked model in a life-drawing class is smitten by an Impulse body-sprayed art student, only to be embarrassed by his ensuing erection; a dead man’s body complete with engorged member advertises Sky Broadcasting’s movie channel (meanwhile the Playboy Channel promises 'Morgasms’); an Italian ISP employs a bare-breasted Amazon to pose the provocative question, 'why pay for it when you can get it for free?’; Ogilvy and Mather concocts completely phoney facts about the incidence of underage sex B 61% of 12-year olds are sexually active, no less B only to disingenuously claim that they represent 'the statistics of the future’; and, in a textbook example of the not-so-soft sell, a cinema ad for London’s Great Frog jewellery store ends with that celebrated commercial show-stopper, the fabled magic bullet of marketing communications: 'If you don’t like it.fuck off.’

They make Jerry Della Famina’s (1970) 'from those wonderful folks who gave you Pearl Harbour’ seem like a model of marketing decorum.

Offensive as today’s advertising undoubtedly is, and much though it owes to the industry’s internal machinations, the growth of gross-out cannot be separated from macro-scale developments. Once again, four main explanatory factors can be identified, the first of which is societal. Simply put, this suggests that advertising reflects socially accepted, if not universally endorsed, norms and expectations. We live, after all, at a time of supposed national dumbing-down, when shock-jocks rule the airwaves, pornography pervades the Internet, television channels are chock-a-block with 'shockumentaries’, and prominent talk-show hosts, such as Conan O’Brien, openly boast of gas-passing, sniffing and kindling competitions. Is it surprising, therefore, that today’s advertisers are bending with the wind, as it were? At a time, moreover, when Young British Artists like Damien dissected-sheep Hirst, Tracey dirty-bed Emin, Chris elephant-dung Ophili and Ron dead-dad Mueck adopt a I-see-no-shit attitude, is it any wonder that English advertisers endeavour to outdoo whatever YBAs throw at them? At a time, indeed, when cult cartoon series like South Park embrace Christmas poo, foetal millinery and chocolate salty balls, amongst others too mephitic to mention, and each summer unfailingly excretes a top grossing gross-out movie B Dumb and Dumber (Vesuvius of diarrhoea erupts in Dolby stereo), There’s Something About Mary (extra-hold, bodily-fluid enhanced hair-gel), American Pie (making out with Granny Smith’s shortcrust), Scary Movie (all of the above, with an increased sperm count) B is it fair to condemn today’s advertisers for grabbing a slice of the repellent action, for tapping this vein of venality, for trying to catch a fragrant whiff of celebrity pheromone?

Above and beyond developments in the socio-cultural sphere, tere is an important demographic dimension to advertising’s headlong plunge into putrescence. Namely, the rise of Generation X (Miller 1995; Richie 1995; Tulgan 1997). Although baby boomers remain the driving force of western economies, in terms of sheer numbers, spending power and marketer orientation (that is, the principal focus of marketing activity), the cutting edge of consumer cool is firmly in the hands of post-boom cohorts. Generation Next now counts key opinion formers, political movers and shakers, television producers, network schedulers, movie stars, top musicians, literary luminaries, legal eagles, hi-rolling stockbrokers, leading fashion designers, computer programmers, cultural commentators, advertising creatives, marketing executives and, not least, new age management gurus amongst its number. Granted, the rise of a new demographic cadre is unremarkable in itself, but what makes Generation X relevant to our present concerns is its (oft commented upon) sophomoric sense of gross-out humour. This is the cohort, remember, that grew up in the permissive society, courtesy of make love not war, contraceptive pill-popping, Valley of the Dolls-reading baby boomers. They endured adolescence when Mel Brooks was breaking wind in Blazing Saddles, Divine was dining out on ordure in Pink Flamingos and President Nixon was deleting expletives amongst other less salubrious activities. What’s more, they reached full maturity when the ironic smirk of David Letterman was endearing rather than irritating, Bret Easton Ellis touched the nadir of rat-wrangling degeneracy in American Psycho and Jerry Seinfeld handled masturbation in a prime-time sit-com. Pornography is thus par for the course, obscenity seems normal, grossness is no big deal for today’s cadre of consumers. Leading Gen-X spokesperson, Geoffrey Holtz (1995, p. 199) goes so far as to suggest that his peers’ fondness for offensiveness is a reflection of, and commentary on, 'the banality and vapid commercialism omnipresent in our culture’.

This could well be the case, though maybe there’s something more fundamental, more developmental, at work. According to Andrew Calcutt (1998), post war western society (as a whole, not just the individual demographic cohorts of Generations W, X, Y or whatever) is characterised by arrested development, by aspirations to adolescence. Whereas adulthood was once deemed an admirable state, a right and proper place of maturity, solidity, seriousness and societal responsibilities, these days no-one wants to grow up, never mind grow old. We reside in a world of middle-aged teenage rebels, who were weaned during the post war boom B the television age B and whose world view was shaped, in its entirety, by the jeans wearing, rock ’n’ rolling, Tolkien reading, drugs taking, anti-establishment ethos of pop culture. In this society of perpetual Peter Pans and Lost Boys, where even the establishment is anti-establishment and there is nothing left to rebel against (except rebelliousness), everyone aims to remain, in the words of middle-aged rocker Bryan Adams, 'Eighteen Til I Die’. Slick Willy Clinton plays sax, amongst other teenage pursuits; Tony 'Bambi’ Blair boasts of his long-haired, bell-bottomed, rock band past; fortysomething CEOs rollerblade to the office with a copy of The Face tucked inside The Financial Times; and Homer Simpson, Springfield’s father of the year, is our adult role model of choice. Almost inevitably, therefore, the culture of our times reflects this adolescent sensibility. Sex, smut, snot, flatulence, foul language, bodily functions, bad manners, new laddism, narcissism, superciliousness, scatology, secretions, sarcasm, cynicism, irony, ribaldry, offensiveness, truculence and an overwhelming desire to shock, subvert, revolt are par for our course. Or should that be coarse?

The fourth and final macro-level factor that might account for our ostensible descent into degradation is the so-called fin de siFcle effect (Jay and Neve 1999; Showalter 1991; Stern 1992). Just as the turn of the twentieth century was characterised by depravity, decadence, despondency, sexualy transmitted diseases, economic-cum-technological dislocation and an extraordinary preoccupation with divination, necromancy and matters paranormal, so too the twenty-first century cusp seems obsessed with analogous concerns. Only nowadays UFOs have superseded ouija boards, AIDS occupies the syphilis slot, cyber barons are reconfigured robber barons, genetic defects have replaced 'bad blood’ in the chamber of scientific horrors and child sex abuse is to today’s moral guardians what homosexuality was to Oscar Wilde’s contemporaries. Indeed, these parallels are so marked that some prominent theorists of postmodernity, principally the incomparable Jean Baudrillard, maintain that the western world is engaged in a massive process of rewinding, replaying, reviewing and re-presenting the long march of history in order to salve our collective consciences concerning the complete mess we made of the century just past. And, naturally, he employs arrestingly revolting imagery to illustrate his thesis:

When ice freezes, all the excrement rises to the surface. And so, when the dialectic was frozen, all the sacred excrement of the dialectic came to the surface. When the future is deep-frozen B and, indeed, even the present B we shall see all the excrement come up from the past. The problem them becomes one of waste. It is not just material substances, including nuclear ones, which pose a waste problem but also the defunct ideologies, bygone utopias, dead concepts and fossilized ideas which continue to pollute our mental space. Historical and intellectual refuse pose an even more serious problem than industrial waste. Who will rid us of the sedimentation of centuries of stupidity? As for history B that living lump of waste, that dying monster which, like the corpse in Ionesco, continues to swell after it has died B how are we to be rid of it? (Baudrillard 1994, p.26)

How indeed?

DISCUSSING DISGUSTING

Regardless of the reasons for the rise of revolting advertising, this putrescent propensity raises a number of important research issues. Space does not permit a detailed discussion but, in light of the authors’ exploratory empirical investigations, four key considerations can be identified. The first of these is the enormous variation from sector to sector. While gross out advertising is well nigh ubiquitous among desperate-for-an-image dotcom companies, anything-to-attract-attention charities, and eat-my-soiled-shorts fashion-forwarders, it doesn’t follow that feculence is right for, say, financial services, fresh fruit or home furnishings, to name but three. Their time may well come of course and, as the above typology indicates, offensiveness itself comes in several different varieties. Revolting researchers, nonetheless, are required to examine the sector-specific penetration of purulent promotions and consider what, if anything, is acceptable in one domain but not in another. Barnes and Dotson (1990), what is more, usefully distinguish between offensive products (condoms, sanitary protection etc.) and offensive treatments (sexist, blasphemous et al.), which suggests that the most offensive advertisements of all are those that combine unmentionable products and unsavoury executions. Additional empirical research is called for.

A second scholarly consideration pertains to the consumption of crapulence. By its very nature, provocative advertising isn’t designed to appeal to everyone. Quite the opposite, in point of fact. Nor, for that matter, does it necessarily affront or appal all and sundry. On the contrary, the splatter treatment seems to be particularly attractive to nerds and nose-pickers of all ages, whereas many women are deeply upset by the ostensibly offensive, especially when it involves egregious sexploitation (as exemplified by the recent anti-advertising protests in France (Henley 2000) and the establishment of Guard Bitches, an organisation dedicated to stamping out sexism in public life). Younger consumers, according to Vezina and Paul (1997), are also more favourably disposed towards off-colour adverts, though once again this is likely to vary from country to country, between contrasting social classes and depending upon the particular category of offensiveness B carnal, corporeal, creedal or cultural B that is being pressed into service.

If the first two research issues are essentially spatial, insofar as they refer to the variations that are identifiable across the obnoxiouscape, the final two are predominantly temporal. One of the most striking aspects of odious advertising campaigns is the speed with which they cease to offend. The trajectory from horrific to honorific, from sensationalist to sensational, from preposterous to prepossessing, seems extraordinarily rapid. FCUK may have triggered howls of protest in 1997, but less than a year later it was included in a government sponsored, best-of-British exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum and a right wing political association, Conservative Futures UK, adapted the celebrated acronym, only to be sued by French Connection for pirating its proprietary profanity! The copywriter behind the campaign, furthermore, was subsequently appointed as the Labour Party’s official marketing maestro ('fcuk politics’, perhaps?). Be that as it may, revolting advertising’s seemingly swift shift from rebel to reactionary is worthy of further investigation, as is the associated issue of excessive excess. How much is too much?

Although, with apologies to Warhol, the advertisers of the future will be infamous for fifteen minutes, our last research consideration looks back to the past. Far from being a recent development, the history of advertising and promotion reveals that the industry has long been in love with the loathsome, whether it be in the animal welfare commercials of the 1980s, David Ogilvy’s shock-sells advice of the 1960s, the keep-death-off-the-roads campaigns of the 1940s, the litany of odious bodily aliments invented in the 1920s B BO, halitosis, athlete’s foot, housemaid’s knee, wrinkled elbows (!) etc. B or Edward Bernays’ Progressive Era promotional stunts for syphilis awareness and analogous unspeakables (Marchand 1985; Ogilvy 1983; Saunders 1999; Tye 1998). The putative packaged goods promoters of the late 19th century, what is more, warned of the insectoid horrors that infested the dry goods grocer’s cracker barrel, oat bin or patent medicine; they emphasised the serious health risks run by users of other people’s combs, toothbrushes or razor blades; and they repeatedly stressed the adulterated dangers that inhered in competitors’ brands, which were supposedly manufactured in insalubrious conditions by flagrantly irresponsible producers (Strasser 1989).

Indeed, as advertising historian Jackson Lears (1994) cogently demonstrates C and as a list of leading intellectuals from Bakhtin to Bataille bears eloquent witness C there has always been a transgressive side to commercial life; a rude, crude, rambunctious, end-of-the-pier dimension to advertising endeavour. For many people, the carnivalesque side of commerce is commerce. Everyone 'knows’ that selling, marketing and advertising types are hucksters, shysters and outright cheats, whose claims to care for their customers are just another con, another three card marketing monte, another attempt to pull the wool over credulous consumers’ eyes. No matter how much marketing communicants may protest their innocence, the advertising industry is, and always will be, associated with provocation, offensiveness and outrage (Brown 2001). Gross, in sum, is good. Revolting advertising represents the return of the marketing repressed. And if you don’t believe us, you can...fcuk off!

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Authors

Stephen Brown, University of Ulster, United Kingdom
Hope Schau, Temple University, U.S.A.



Volume

E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2001



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