Brand vulgarity

Published date16 July 2018
Date16 July 2018
AuthorMerlyn A. Griffiths
Subject MatterMarketing,Product management,Brand management/equity
Brand vulgarity
Merlyn A. Griffiths
University of North Carolina, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA
Purpose The purpose of this study is to explore the use of expletives and derogatory terminology in the naming structure for companies, products
and brands; a marketing strategy which is growing across a wide range of industries. The author denes this concept as brand vulgarity and
explores the practice, as it situates in the midst of irony, as terms commonly held as taboo and societally indecent, are moving into the mainstream.
Design/methodology/approach This study draws on the established literature in branding, profanity and ironic marketing to create a concep tual
framework through which to understand brand vulgarity.
Findings Brand vulgarity is intended to capture attention. However, several factors inuence consumer receptivity and acceptance. These facto rs
include perceived offensiveness exposure and the reclaiming and reappropriation of vulgar terms. Brand vulgarity not only challenges traditional
approaches to nomenclature in branding but the building of brand image as well.
Social implications The marketplace has become a brand war demarcated by erce competition each entity vying for atte ntion. The use of vulgar
terminology and the growing ease of consumer receptivity calls to question changes in sociocultural sensitivity and its inuence on social acceptance
of brand vulgarity.
Originality/value This work breaks new ground as the rst to introduce the concept of brand vulgarity and examine the practice across multiple
Keywords Brand image, Branding, Offensiveness, Brand vulgarity, Ironic marketing, Profanity, Risqué marketing
Paper type Conceptual paper
Royal Bitch [...]Sassy Bitch [...]Jealous Bitch [...] Tasty Bitch [...]Sweet
Bitch [...]Happy Bitch [...] Like a slap across the face, Bitch grabbed the
attention of a certain type of consumer [...] The thing is, if you come out
with a conservative label, its hard to separate yourself from the herd on the
shelf, [...]The competition is just brutalsays John F. Umbach, owner of
Joseph Victori Wines (Grimes, 2011).
An interesting trend of growing importancein the marketplace
is the use of expletives and derogatory terminology in the
naming structure of companies, products and brands. This
practice serves the distinct purpose of breaking through the
clutter, capturing the interest of the intended audience, and
increasing the possibility that the company, products and
brands are noticed. We identify this strategy as brand vulgarity,
which refers to the use of sexual, derogatory, insults and
scatology referents in branding. This comprises referents
socially determined as profanity, obscenity, or indecent
terminology as elements (name, taglines, logos/symbols,
URLs, etc.) used to identify a company, its products and
brands. As consumers tend to discuss, describe and ask for a
product or serviceby a name, researchers and marketers tendto
agree that the name is the most importantof all brand elements
and a critical component in building brand image (Keller,
2013;Petty, 2008). The value of the name and its represented
imagery is such that it is typically trademarked and protected
against infringement.
Brand vulgarity uses foul or dirty language by breaking
taboos related to intimate or societally determined indecent
language. Increasing in adoption across numerous industries
are terms societally categorized as profanity, swears and
obscenities (categorized here as vulgarity) that traditionally
hold a negative and offensive connotation in their meaning.
Terms like slut, bitch, bastard, and assare not euphemisms,
but rather blatantlinguistic expressions, conventionallyimbued
with derogatory charged meanings that may rub against the
grain of what is appropriate in the community and society.This
practice of employing vulgar terms and images in naming
products, company entities and brands, has been described as
cheeky, edgy, saucy and having a scratchy hook (Grimes,
2011). Yet, these terms and others with evengreater pejorative
tones are being used to represent the company, image and
identity to both internal (employees) and external (consumers,
stakeholders) audiences. Brand vulgarity situates in the midst
of irony, as terms commonly held as taboo and societally
indecent, are moving into the mainstream, nding their way
onto product labels on retailer shelves and establishments for
patronage. Indicative of ironic marketing and advertising,
brand vulgarity adds edge or bite(Pehlivan et al., 2011)and
attempts to give vulgarity prominence in branding and
advertising, toward becoming a legitimate part of the social
For some consumers, these terms and images may evoke
negative responses, while others may consider their use as
clever and even innovative as a means of attracting attention.
Millennials for example, seem to be more comfortable, less
offended and more accepting of vulgar language (www., 2016). In the workplace, compared
to boomers, millennials are inclined to use more swear words,
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on
Emerald Insight at:
Journal of Product & Brand Management
27/4 (2018) 404414
© Emerald Publishing Limited [ISSN 1061-0421]
[DOI 10.1108/JPBM-01-2017-1385]

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