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The signature, 1972 comedy routine by the late George Carlin hilariously and repeatedly used seven words that television broadcasters absolutely refused to allow on the airwaves. These restrictions have gradually adjusted though, such that today, viewers watching cable and even late-hour (though still prime time) network dramas may be surprised by some of the racy language.

Such trends also have reached the marketing arena. In general, whereas advertising traditionally relied on relatively formal language and professional production values, modern ads have grown a bit looser, adopting “YouTube-style” videography and more colloquial language. Those colloquialisms in turn include some terminology that some viewers consider offensive rather than casual.

Consider Adobe’s most recent campaign for its Analytics and Media Optimizer tools. Aimed by Adobe marketers at other marketers, it promises that its analysis tools will allow executives to prove that social media is worthwhile, not a bunch of hooey. The last term is the one that, in the ad, relies on a more popular, barnyard-centric word. In some versions of the ad, the term is used fully, whereas in others, its two-letter abbreviation is spoken instead; print versions use either the full term or a version of it with asterisks to replace a letter or two.

Proctor & Gamble’s commercials for Tide do not reach quite the same level of potential obscenity. However, in a scene in which the mother figure tells the father figure that his clothing folding skills are poor, the term she uses is one that might have prompted previous generations of mothers to wash out their children’s mouths with soap. Yet the term is also common enough in modern vernacular conversation that it may have given most viewers little pause.

Pushing the boundaries of what viewers and consumers consider decent or acceptable language offers advertisers a means to attract attention by being a little shocking. The challenge is finding the right balance between gaining attention and a reputation for being cutting-edge or provocative, and simply alienating consumers who still find coarse language offensive and unnecessary, especially when broadcast over the airwaves for their children to hear.

Source: Stewart Elliot, “To Stand Out, Campaign for Adobe Gets Blunt,” The New York Times, October 22, 2012