FCUK and Diesel show the risks of being risqué

With French Connection relaunching its 1990s FCUK logo and Diesel opting to advertise on Pornhub, provocative campaigns seem the way to go. But the risks are high. It is not just about going where the audience is but making sure the message is relevant or audiences will either zone out or turn against you.

FCUK

Last month French Connection announced it is reviving its nineties logo ‘FCUK’ in its latest campaign. Seen as controversial at the time for all but spelling out an explicit word, the brand now hopes the slogan will reflect “back to the successes of the 90s”.

And sales success is something the brand is in desperate need of. The fashion retailer made a pre-tax loss of £7.9m for the six months to the end of July 2015, worse than the £3.9m loss a year ago.

Reactions to the news has been mixed. While the announcement has caused some to reminisce about their teenage years, others are more cynical about the stunt. According to Richard Buchanan, managing director at branding agency The Clearing, French Connection’s slogan revival “might not be clever enough”.

He explains: “It originally launched in 1997, when that slogan summed up the mood of the nation. Blair had just been elected and Britain essentially put two fingers up to the Tories. French Connection rode on the back of that. But it went beyond the campaign, where the brand put the slogan on every item of clothing it produced – and people became tired of that quite quickly.”

While the brand will undoubtedly gain standout from the campaign, it is difficult to determine whether it will have a long-term impact on sales.

“It could well reconnect with nostalgic customers in the short term, but I doubt it will it capture the imagination and spend of the average 20-something looking for smart, refined and affordable fashion,” says Ben Peckett, creative director at content agency Kameleon.

Others are more positive about the logo’s rebirth. Barny Collis, director for design and art direction at fashion agency Pollen London, believes it could boost the brand – if implemented correctly.

He explains: “French Connection do have a history of running interesting social media campaigns. So if the new campaign is well executed in terms of art direction, content and social media, then the slogan could have some life left in it.”

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The shifting boundaries of controversy

After French Connection pulled its ‘FCUK’ slogan in the early 2000s, many other fashion brands have sought to shock and entertain audiences over the years. American Apparel, which filed for bankruptcy in October last year, was renowned for its smutty campaigns featuring young female models in highly sexualised poses.

More recently, Diesel said that it would be rolling out its latest campaign on traditional platforms such as print, online, as well as Pornhub and gay dating app Grindr.

“As the culturally relevant denim brand it’s important for Diesel to converse with audiences in a way that is both intimate and honest,” says Richard Welch, global head of strategy at Spring Studios, which produced the campaign. “Partnering with Grindr and Pornhub allows Diesel to connect without taboo where—on occasion—a great number of people spend their time in the digital age.”

Incidentally, like French Connection, the brand is facing falling sales. Diesel lost €100m (£75m) in wholesale revenue in 2015, ending the year with the weakest results in its history, according to Italy24.

While the boundaries of what defines controversial advertising have undoubtedly shifted, the medium has also changed. As a result, French Connection’s new campaign might not achieve the cut through the brand is hoping for.

“Everybody remembers the slightly shocking FCUK billboards. It was high impact. Nowadays, people have a much higher threshold for shocking material. You only have to go online to prove this point. So the new campaign is definitely not going to have the same effect,” adds Collis.

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American Apparel are well known for their campaigns which often feature young women in sexualised poses.

The risk of being risqué

Both Diesel and French Connection’s campaigns have shown that provocative advertising can lead to headlines. While Diesel claims it wants to be advertising in the places where their audience might be looking, whether it constitutes as more than a PR stunt remains to be seen.

“The reality in display media is that you’re going to be competing for where their actual attention is focused, and I can’t imagine many people planning their new summer wardrobe as they watch a man with a moustache come to fix the boiler.”

Ben Peckett, creative director, content agency Kameleon

“As with all communication – say the right thing, in the right place, at the right time – otherwise you just fade into the background. I can’t help but think that’s what will happen here,” Peckett adds.

Even though it’s arguably easier than ever for brands to be controversial, there are also wider questions around whether they should aim to be in the first place. Those who are controversial for the sake of it will quickly be called out and publicly ridiculed.

Peckett concludes: “It’s got to be an inherent part of your DNA as a challenger for people to respect it in the first place, and it has to be smart – there’s a fine line between controversial and offensive. Get it wrong and people will have no qualms using the very same media you use to stand out, to tear you down.”

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  • A greening 3 Feb 2016 at 2:49 pm

    That awkward moment the digital marketing team are having to test the display banners for PornHub in the office…

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Tom Fishburne is founder of Marketoon Studios. Follow his work at marketoonist.com or on Twitter @tomfishburne See more of the Marketoonist here