At the beginning of the New Year, an ad from KFC Australia drew the wrong attention to the brand.
In the ad for the Zinger Popcorn Box, a young woman was seen checking out in the mirror of a car window. The window opened to reveal two teenage boys, who stared at her as she unwittingly revealed a glimpse of her cleavage. A mother is also sitting in the car and staring at the woman.
For some, the ad is a simple comedy created by a misunderstanding. For others, it’s an attempt to use sex to sell fast food in this case. KFC has since apologized for the ad. This ad could have been placed in 2000 or 1970. However, some recent ads contain not only sexual innuendo, but also obscene language. (There was no profanity in the KFC ad.)
The trend seems to have started in the 2010s when Taco Bell and Jolly Rancher published ads with the word “sucks”, which turned the advertising taboo against using that word as a harsher synonym for “stink” for years. In 2013 Kmart’s Ship My Pants used the play on words “ship”. A few years later, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese published a Mother’s Day ad celebrating the fact that 74 percent of mothers swear in front of their children.
Other brands embracing this trend were Jell-O, which made the internet acronym FML “Fun My Life”, Kraft for “Get Your Chef Together” and Booking.com’s “You Booking Did It”.
Obviously times are changing. From the 1950s onwards, mass market advertising was an oasis of profanity-free communication. However, some new ads have profanity in them while other brands point it out, like the French Connection UK logo.
A coarsening of our society or an increased individualism?
Scientists working on the subject have found that our daily communication has become coarser in recent years. A recent study by psychologist Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University shows that the increasing use of such words does not reflect more vulgar manners, but more individualism and free expression.
There is also a case where profanity has infiltrated an even higher culture. A paper co-written by Twenge found that books written between 2005 and 2008 were 28 times more likely to contain swear words than books published in the early 1950s. Since then, the use of swear words has only increased, as the swearing politicians prove.
Not everyone sees this as a bad sign. Jeff Jarvis, a writer and former television critic for TV Guide, has submitted requests for information to the FCC when it comes to cracking down on broadcasters. When asked if Jarvis would like to drop swear words in advertisements, he pointed to a hypocrisy: “I think people should have their own language, and we have to get past our squeamish puritanical mindsets that some of those words are shocking, when much more shocking things are going on around us than using F-word. “
The development of offensive advertising
1950s ads are often cited for their squeaky clean ability to idealize life and censor unpleasant aspects of culture. Ironically, while free from profanity, such ads have recently been held back for review of their caption.
The characteristics of advertisements from this period are racist and sexist messages that are presented in a discourse free of profanity. Although some ads from the 80s and 90s tried to push beyond such limits, it wasn’t until the 21st century that we saw such ads take center stage. At this point, marketers were confronting a young population weaned on social media – and television dominance was beginning to crumble.