Cursing Ads: Attention Grabber or Brand Builder?

June 10, 2024

In the digital age, where there is a constant fight for consumer attention, brands have turned to provocative and sometimes controversial methods to make an impact and stand out. Swearing in text such as "Calm the F*ck Down" and "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck," in social media posts, ad campaigns, and book titles.

We’re seeing an increase in the use of provocation to cut through the noise everywhere. While these tactics undoubtedly succeed in grabbing attention, it is essential to ask: what comes after the initial shock value wears off?

Provocation works well as a hook. Brands can capture attention in a cluttered environment by leveraging shock, humour, or controversy. However, attention should not be mistaken for engagement. True engagement involves creating a deeper connection with the audience and influencing consumer behaviour over time. While provocative copy can attract eyeballs, it doesn’t necessarily convert into long-term brand equity unless it is part of a broader, strategic approach.

Nike’s Campaign with Colin Kaepernick

Consider Nike’s use of Colin Kaepernick in their advertising. Unlike mere attention-grabbing tactics, Nike’s campaign was deeply rooted in the brand’s longstanding values of courage, perseverance, and advocacy within the sports community. This campaign did more than just capture attention; it resonated with Nike’s core customer base and reinforced the brand’s identity and values, which are about much more than sports apparel. They are about taking a stand.

For brands considering a provocative approach, the risks are considerable. A campaign that misfires can lead to backlash, boycotts, and brand damage. However, when done right and aligned with the brand’s core values, as seen with Nike, it can enhance brand loyalty and affirm customer identity with the brand, translating into long-term sales and brand strengthening.

After the Initial Shock

The challenge for marketers using provocative strategies is to leverage the initial attention into a sustained engagement strategy. Brands need to think beyond the initial shock and consider how these tactics fit into the larger brand narrative. Is the provocation sparking meaningful conversations? Does it align with the brand’s values and long-term goals?

The reason why adding words such as “F*CK” into your text grabs attention is because it’s different. All other copy is quite similar leading to semantic satiation, where repeated exposure to phrases causes them to lose impact over time. But what will happen when we are getting used to provocative words? It’ll also disappear in the noise the initial powerful impact of provocative language wears off, rendering the strategy less effective. This highlights the importance of evolving campaign strategies to maintain engagement.

Implement Provocation Wisely

If you feel the need to use provocative elements, do it wisely and ensure they are always backed by a deeper, strategic brand message. Without this, even the most attention-grabbing campaign will fail to achieve a lasting impact. For provocation to be genuinely effective, it must be a strategic choice that reinforces the brand’s values and deepens customer engagement. Nike serves as a prime example of how integrating deep emotional values with provocative marketing can elevate a brand well beyond the immediate reaction, crafting a narrative that resonates long after the initial buzz fades.

A challenge and opportunity for brands in the provocative age of marketing.

Do you want to know more?

The people at our Design Studio are experts at creating content that captivates.

Reach out to our Chief Design Officer, Pelle Mets Höök today to see how we can help cut through the noise.