Mills On ... The FCUK debate

Well, bgguer me, that letter was real. Like everyone at Campaign, my initial reaction when David Abbott’s ’fcuk’ letter arrived last week was that it was a hoax.

Well, bgguer me, that letter was real. Like everyone at Campaign,

my initial reaction when David Abbott’s ’fcuk’ letter arrived last week

was that it was a hoax.



Surely, we thought, the coarse language was the work of a Watford

student after the union bar had shut, not an elegantly penned missive

from the master of gentle persuasion. (On the other hand, the word order

of one particular sentence - ’though haven’t I seen it fcuking before on

the lav walls?’ - suggested somebody not entirely at ease with himself.

Wouldn’t it have been more natural to write ’on the fcuking lav

walls’?)



But perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised. Abbott’s saintly demeanour

and old-fashioned courtesy have long concealed a waspish, sometimes

childlike, sense of mischief. I am told that years ago he walked into

AMV’s pitch for the Metropolitan Police and greeted the assembled

clients with the words, ’’Ello, ’ello, ’ello’, only to see them all walk

out.



On another occasion, I saw him address a seminar of the navel-gazing

type at BAFTA. He was accompanied by a violinist called Wilf, who

punctuated the speech with short musical interludes. As a gentle way of

puncturing the pomposity of some of his fellow speakers it was quite

marvellous.



None of us mind the letter’s explicit criticism of Campaign. But it begs

a lot of questions. Why did he write the letter now, and not when the

campaign broke? Was Campaign’s decision to make French Connection its

advertiser of the year the catalyst?



One leading creative director I spoke to agreed with the letter, but

ended by saying: ’The trouble is, you can’t argue with the effectiveness

of the campaign.’ Put the creative to one side for a moment. The

campaign is a textbook case of total and single-minded alignment behind

a brand proposition. I bet there isn’t a single UK agency that wouldn’t

kill to have a case history like that on its credentials.



The Abbott argument, however, is not about that. In a sense, it’s an old

argument - remember Club 18-30 - about the calculated combination of a

contentious and potentially offensive message (although not to its

target market - in fact, they like it all the more for that) and a

broadcast medium that those not in the target market cannot avoid. Put

it like that and the fcuk campaign seems like the kind of cynical ploy

that gives advertising a bad name.



But do the eight-year-olds on whose behalf Abbott is protesting see it

that way? My nine-year-old son has seen the posters many times. He’s

been into a shop with me. He’s seen me in a fcuk t-shirt. The word ’bum’

still makes him laugh. He’s certainly not resistant to advertising

(believe me, he’s everything the Swedes bang on about) but fcuk seems to

have passed him by. When he does get it, I think it’s more likely to

make him giggle than anything else.



If we’re talking offensive and cynical, however, let’s talk

Benetton.



I can’t explain Benetton to my children, let alone grown-ups. Any chance

of a letter when their new ’death row’ campaign breaks?



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