Ho ho ho and Merry F-word!

On its Money section cover today, USA Today celebrates a business that’s using an R-rated word to market its products during the Christmas shopping season.

The headline in the print edition:

Urban Outfitters swears by naughty holiday catalog

The top of the story:

For Urban Outfitters, the choice of being naughty or nice in its 2012 Christmas holiday catalog was easy: naughty wins.

The edgy apparel seller has shipped out a holiday catalog that’s chock-full of naughtiness, including a $16 “It was f—ing awesome” photo album and a block candle that boldly spells out the f-word in wax. There’s even an $18 “Let’s f—ing reminisce” book.

Just a few years ago, Urban Outfitters might have received some serious, verbal raps on the knuckles from parents and protesters angered by the ultra-spicy language. But in today’s social-media environment, along with those verbal raps, it’s also receiving some surprising kudos from brand and marketing gurus.

“It’s brilliant, explosive, short-term marketing that generates buzz,” says Marian Salzman, a national trend-spotter and CEO of Havas PR. “It’s the right voice for the teen market.”

My first question for GetReligion readers: What do you think of including the majority of that word in print? Does the hyphen-hyphen-hyphen used in place of the missing three letters eliminate the shock value? Or would it be better to put, say, (expletive) in place of the word? Or  — as long as the nation’s newspaper deems the story newsworthy — would anyone advocate printing the entire word?

Speaking of newsworthy, do you consider this story such? Or does it appeal to the lowest common USA denominator?

The story is relatively short — about 400 words — and does not jump inside the Money section. So after reading the first part of the report, I was not overly optimistic that USA Today would bother to quote anyone with concerns about the, um, “ultra-spicy language.”

But to my surprise, the story proceeded to quote both a marketing expert and a Christian activist critical of the approach:

Not everyone is impressed.

“It’s all about getting up on Instagram or someone’s Facebook page,” brand guru Peter Madden says. “But this kind of marketing really isn’t so rebellious. It’s just kind of stupid.”

Worse than that, says Monica Cole, director of the activist Christian group One Million Moms, “it’s tasteless and vulgar.” Her organization, which is affiliated with the American Family Association, isn’t calling for a boycott but is asking its members to think hard before purchasing any Urban Outfitter products. “They’ll be losing business from conservative families,” she says.

Is that enough of the “other side” of the story? In a report this concise, probably so.

At the end of the story, I learned something new (sarcasm intended):

Specifically, to today’s teens, the f-word doesn’t even mean what it means to most adults, Salzman says. It no longer even has sexual connotations, she says. “It’s almost a synonym for ‘give me a break.’”

Would I sound like an old fuddy-duddy if I responded, “No, give me a break!”

Image via Shutterstock

About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • http://ourgirlsclub.blogspot.com/ Ginny Bain Allen

    It’s pathetic, that’s what it is.

  • KS

    It’s offensive but I’m not shocked. I was dismayed that people who call themselves Christians defended the book “Go the F— to Sleep,” too.

  • sari

    Articles like this are why I don’t read USA Today. Too much fluff. Still, the article was appropriate to the Money (business) section and documents the coarsening of American culture. At this point, the f-word has become ubiquitous and has little shock value for anyone below a certain age, so I saw no problem with the way it was spelled in the article. Would you have preferred f’ing or f-ing?

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      I would have preferred (expletive).

      • sari

        Ah, but expletive is very non-specific, and some are heftier than others.

        • Bobby Ross Jr.

          True.

  • Jay

    My complaint with the article is the citation of “One Million Moms” without pointing out that it has more than 960,000 fewer members than its name would suggest.

  • Bobby Ross Jr.

    A few folks have left comments addressing the issue, not the media coverage. I have spiked those comments.

    Just FYI to those who may be new to GetReligion: We strive to focus on the journalism and media questions and approve comments that fall within that context, although obviously that’s not an exact science.


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