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
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
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
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
I can’t explain Benetton to my children, let alone grown-ups. Any chance
of a letter when their new ’death row’ campaign breaks?