Nearly sweary ads

Once upon a time, advertising copywriters could seize your attention with words like FREE and SALE and GUARANTEED OR YOUR MONEY BACK. Now they vie to see who can nudge closest to actual expletives without going full Tucker. Over the last couple of years we’ve seen “abso-booking-lutely” and “Look at the booking view!” from, in which “booking” substitutes for “fucking”; “Ship my pants!” from supposedly family-friendly Kmart, in which “ship” sounds very much like “shit”; “half-fast Internet” from Verizon (“half-assed”—get it?); “Go fun yourself” from Toyota Europe; “Go fork yourself” from Bravo TV; and “I take a sheet in the pool” from Sheets Energy Strips (I think you can figure out the last three).

And the trend keeps trending. Here are some recent examples:Adobe, the multinational software company, ran this full-page ad in the New York Times business section on April 7:

Adobe Bull Sheet


As I noted in my own blog, Fritinancy: “Bull sheet is defined in the small type as ‘tedious paperwork’; sheet is meant to be a punning reference to paper.”

Also in April, the technology retailer NewEgg ran this ad from chipmaker AMD in rotation on the homepage:


“This is FXing Serious.” Thanks to Jonathon Owen (@ArrantPedantry) for bringing the ad to my attention.

FX is the family name for a line of AMD processors. It’s unclear how, or even whether, the headline is meant to be pronounced—“eff-ex-ing serious”? “fuxing serious”?—but the allusion to “fucking” is unmistakable.

I spotted this billboard for Thumbtack, a “marketplace for skilled professionals,” in San Francisco in May:

Thumbtack shiatsu masseuse

“We have a shiatsu-load of masseuses.”

Shiatsu—a Japanese form of pressure-point massage—has three syllables, and isn’t close enough to single-syllable shit to create a wholly successful pun on shitload. And the line takes too much time and effort to decode when you’re zooming past it on the freeway (just out of frame to the left). I for one kept mis-reading “masseuses” as “mattresses.”

Speaking of X-loads, DraftKings, the fantasy-sports site, has been running TV spots in which a fellow in a loud checked sportcoat seals the deal with “Best of all, you could win a shipload of money!”

Linguist Arnold Zwicky wrote in his blog that

The shipload of money (for shitload of money) on DraftKings is a phonologically-based euphemistic avoidance, a very ostentatious one in fact, similar to the use of booking for fucking in the ad…

But shipload is also a legitimate word, defined by as “as much or as many as will fill a ship” or “an indefinitely large number.” It’s synonymous with boatload (a word DraftKings substituted in some versions of the ad).

Edgy? Attention getting? Puerile? Frankly, my dear …


T-shirt via Saks Off Fifth, the discount outlet owned by upscale retailer Saks Fifth Avenue.

10 thoughts on “Nearly sweary ads

  1. danchall June 19, 2015 / 2:15 pm

    In the late 60s, approximately, there was a TV commercial for toilet paper, and the young woman at the end delivered the catchphrase “Wow! That’s a lot of sheets!”


  2. Y June 19, 2015 / 7:33 pm

    I tried to link this image:

    to DHL’s “Yellow: It’s the new Brown” billboards, taking aim at UPS.


    • Nancy Friedman June 20, 2015 / 12:41 pm

      Y: Ummm … how is this sweary?


      • Y June 23, 2015 / 1:52 am

        I dunno. Kinda like number 1 is the new number 2.


      • Nancy Friedman June 23, 2015 / 2:07 am

        Well, that’s a stretch–and not at all the sort of nearly sweary stuff I write about here. “Yellow” and “brown” aren’t swears, or even sweary puns. The examples in my post are much more direct.

        You might be interested to know that UPS has trademark protection in specific trademark classes for the specific shade of brown in its trade dress, and even for the word “brown” in specific contexts. (Good discussion here; UPS brand guidelines here.)

        So you might say that UPS = brown. Not “number 2.” Not “shit.” Brown.

        And DHL “owns” the color yellow for its trade dress.


  3. mmn June 20, 2015 / 4:52 am

    Don’t forget French Connection – a fashion label whose British operation is branded fcuk.

    From Wikipedia;
    FCUK branding controversy[edit]

    French Connection store in Covent Garden, London
    French Connection began using the branding “fcuk” (usually written in lowercase) in advertising after 1991 when Marks regained control.[7] Reportedly, the first use of the initialism was on faxes sent between Hong Kong and London offices, headed “FCHK to FCUK”.[8] Marks said in a subsequent interview that the faxes were not intended to be rude. The advertising campaign came about because he was so impressed by a bra advert featuring Eva Herzigová that he contacted the advertising executive behind it Trevor Beattie, even though the company didn’t have a budget for an advertising campaign at that time. It was Beattie who spotted the marketing potential of the initialism and a campaign was launched around it.[9]

    Its similarity to the word “fuck” caused widespread controversy.[7][10] French Connection capitalised on the controversy it caused, producing t-shirts with messages such as “fcuk fashion”, “hot as fcuk”, “too busy to fcuk”, “fcuk safely” etc. There were also a number of regionally specific messages, such as “fondle constantly until knackered” (in the UK), “fcukin hell” and “no fcukin worries” (in Australia).[citation needed]

    The success of the branding in raising French Connection’s profile led to similar tactics from other organisations. French Connection launched a trademark infringement case in the London High Court challenging the owner of “First Consultants UK Ltd”, a computer company, over its use of the “fcuk” initialism. The case found that the Internet Domain was registered prior to French Connection applying for the UK Trademark and its claim for passing off was dismissed. Mr Justice Rattee refused to grant an injunction, describing French Connection’s use of the initialism as “a tasteless and obnoxious campaign.”[11][12] The company also threatened legal action against the political youth organisation Conservative Future, which had briefly adopted the spoof abbreviation “cfuk” (short for “Conservative Future UK”).[13]

    A French Connection store in Toronto, Canada

    fcuk in York Region
    Following a number of complaints about advertising campaigns using the initialism, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority requested that the company submit all poster campaigns for approval before running them.[10] In the United States, the American Family Association urged a boycott of fcuk products.[14] French Connection stopped using the initialism in advertising in 2005 and reduced its profile in its shops. However it is still used on certain menswear products and in-store branding. Despite this lowering of the profile, French Connection remains known as “fcuk”, particularly by the UK press.[citation needed]


  4. Chips Mackinolty June 20, 2015 / 3:10 pm

    There is a store selling bedding in Newtown, Sydney Australia called “Holy Sheet”


  5. Innocent Bystander June 30, 2015 / 12:26 am

    Rolaids has a new campaign “Kick Acid”


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