Today’s baffling taboo avoidance

In yesterday’s NYT, a story (“Off-Color Wordplay From Kraft, Part of a Big Marketing Blitz” by Stuart Elliott) with a baffling bit of taboo avoidance in it (bold-faced in the excerpt below).

The Kraft Foods Group is continuing a major marketing blitz with an initiative for a new product line — budgeted at more than $30 million in the first year — that seeks to tap into the current mania with all things chef.

… the campaign takes a cheeky tack as embodied by some mildly naughty wordplay in the theme of the ads, “Get your chef together,” which doubles as the address of a microsite, or special Web site, devoted to the new line.

… The Kraft campaigns are indicative of how ads from mainstream marketers are loosening up — or becoming crass and crude, depending on your perspective — to reflect changing societal mores, particularly when it comes to younger shoppers. Other recent examples include ads for Slim-Fast diet products sold by Unilever, which depict women thinking, “I want to show off my new ass,” and commercials for the Kmart division of Sears Holdings in which shoppers utter provocative-sounding phrases like “Ship my pants” and “Big gas savings.”

… Some in advertising, however, question the approach.

“What are you telling consumers, you’re a potty-mouth brand?” asked Anthony Sperduti, who founded, with Andy Spade, the Partners & Spade agency in New York.

“If your only goal is to raise awareness” or generate ideas that “a 25-year-old passes around” in social media like YouTube, Mr. Sperduti said, such tactics could be effective in the short term. “But where is the long-term?” he added.

(Mr. Sperduti is no prude. A new line of sleepwear and underwear that he and Mr. Spade plan to bring out under the Sleepy Joe’s brand name includes a T-shirt that is to bear a slogan that, to paraphrase its message by omitting a four-letter word, will declare, “Fie on tech.”)

I’m stumped, and so is Ben Zimmer (who sent me the link). And I couldn’t find anything on the web about the t-shirt (beyond this NYT story). I did discover that the company is called Sleepy Jones, not Sleepy Joe’s. From Wikipedia:

Sleepy Jones is a collection of loungewear created by Andy Spade and the design studio Partners & Spade. The line was inspired by the lifestyles of artists like David Hockney, Pablo Picasso, and Jean Seberg.

The company was founded in 2013 by Andy Spade, Anthony Sperduti, and Chad Buri. Of the t-shirts currently available on its website, only two have words on them: FLUXUS and DADA. Both art-related.

Links on this blog: to a Kraft campaign with Zesty Anderson Davis; to the “ship my pants” ad; and to “Ship happens” (with links to other X happens postings).

[Addendum on the taboo avoidance. On Facebook, Michael Siemon suggests the obvious interpretation: fie on replaces fuck. But saying that a four-letter word has been omitted forestalls this interpretation. Or the reporter didn’t express himself very well.]

[Further addendum: Ben Zimmer has checked with the reporter, who verfies that he wrote fie on for fuck. Then he should have said that a four-letter word was “replaced”, rather than “omitted”.]

6 Responses to “Today’s baffling taboo avoidance”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    I’ve been telling people for years that when you shouldn’t say “get your shit together” you can say “achieve syncopresis”. (Gk ‘kopron’, dung – like coprolite or encopresis). My 31 year old daughter, a writer and translator, claims she didn’t know until she was ten years old that her father had invented the word.

  2. RF Says:

    It’s got to be “Fuck tech,” no?

  3. Ben Zimmer Says:

    Here’s the Twitter exchange with the reporter, Stuart Elliott. I can sympathize, having had to perform similar Timesian circumlocutions.

  4. Randy Alexander Says:

    The “ship my pants” thing is pretty clever, given the preparatory assimilation that would happen in “shit my pants” anyway.

  5. Odds and ends 8/16/13 | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Bizarre taboo avoidance. First, from Robert Coren, in a comment on my “Fie on tech” […]

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