Does being a self-proclaimed trendy and fashionable clothing line with “street style attitude” give you permission to swear in your advertisements? According to Urban Outfitters it does, and they are the latest brand to receive the unwanted attention of the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA).

Urban Outfitters had sent an email to their mailing list which stated “SORT OUT YOUR SH!T FOR 2013 with NEW AWESOME EVERYTHING…”. There was further text stating “WATCH THIS SH!T” next to an image of a cat peering into its litter tray, in which “2013” was written in excrement. Very witty and humorous some might say – however, one person felt differently and complained to the ASA, challenging whether the language and imagery of cat excrement was offensive.

The brand defended itself by claiming that their customer demographic (apparently between the ages of 18 and 25 according to survey results) were trend setting, creative individuals with a sense of humour and who liked to experiment. As such, the “common slang” phrases with which Urban Outfitter’s customer base would identify from everyday language, would not be offensive to the advertisement’s recipients. The advertisement also included a video of people searching for new jobs, getting fit, giving up smoking and living a healthier lifestyle – Urban Outfitters also argued that the reference to “shit” in “WATCH THIS SH!T” in this context referred to the video, and that by watching it, their customers would be motivated to organise their life and look at their 2013 clothing range.

What did the ASA make of all this?
It agreed with Urban Outfitters – whilst the language was distasteful, it was relatively mild and therefore unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence. It also agreed with the brand’s identification of its core demographic, and that the email was therefore unlikely to seriously offend the advertisement’s recipients who had voluntarily signed up to the mailing list.

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