Wordplay: A Nice Way to Evoke Awareness, Even If It Offends Some People

…and I’m back!  That was quick.

So I wish I could say I’m at a high school football game right now, because I love watching high school football and it’s such a perfect night for it, but my day didn’t allow it, unfortunately.  Sad face.  But the team I wanted to see is good, and there’s a very good chance they’ll make the playoffs, so I should be able to see them then.  Happy face.

In the meantime, while I was sitting around wondering what to do until Porgy and Bess came on PBS at 9, I thought, “Oh em gee!  This would be the perfect time to tackle that blog post I’ve been putting off!”  So here we go.

Recently I’ve seen a couple really fun examples of how wordplay is used in commercials to illustrate a concept.  Through the implementation of a phrase that sounds like another phrase, the concept illustrated by the advertisement is planted in your mind not by face value, but by the other phrase itself.  Geez, I hope I explained that well enough.  I’m sometimes not so good at explaining things.  Well, when words fail, pictures take over, so here are some ads to show you what I mean.

Possibly the best ad to describe this idea is Kmart’s “Ship My Pants”, created at the beginning of last year by DraftFCB of Chicago.  The other two ads I’ll touch upon most likely took their lead from this ad, making this one the granddaddy of pseudo-homophones.

The way the word “shipped” works, you can drop the ending consonants and it’ll easily sound like…something else.  The FCC didn’t pull it, I guess, because it’s not actually the word, but it’s uncanny how similar the two sound.  This was just a brilliant idea.  My favorite is the nightie lady.

But you see why this commercial works, right?  Not only does it register with you that a bunch of people actually said something that sounded like “s**t my pants” on TV, but more importantly, the Kmart brand registers with you.  And that’s what it’s all about.  Never mind that the Conservative Christian group One Million Moms (OMM) campaigned to pull the ad off the air because they felt it was “disgusting” and “ridiculous”¹ – an ad like that just can’t be unseen, which means that in its own special way, it worked.

Another new campaign that follows suit with this theme is Verizon’s “Half-Fast”.  I wish I had the agency for you, but nothing came up in search results.  If anybody knows, let me know.  Anyway, just say “half-fast”.  Say it again.  Exactly.

Then there’s Discover’s “Frog Protection”.  Like “Ship My Pants”, if you drop the last consonant off the word, it’ll sound like “fraud protection”, which is an actual service offered by the credit card company.  This comes from The Martin Agency out of Richmond, Virginia.

When a company advertises, there are obviously many strategies it can undertake to differentiate itself from its competitors.  Sometimes it’s as easy as identifying unique services and products, other times it’s the value proposition, other times it’s the message the company wants to convey.  Sometimes, however, the best strategy is to be clever, and position the company in consumers’ minds in a way that’s unexpected, fun, and even perhaps brilliant.

Whatever you do, though, don’t do it half-fast.  See what I did there?  ‘Course you did.



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