Advertising, Marketing & PR  January 9, 2015

Unwitting double entendres can bite you in the ads

When a real-estate advertisement reads, “This beautiful three-bedroom home won’t last long,” it means to convey that you’d better buy the house now because it’ll sell quickly. But the message some readers might receive instead is that the place is structurally unsound.

Similarly, when The Eye spotted “Lays: Buy One, Get One” on a Safeway marquee in Fort Collins on Christmas Eve, we were certain the grocer’s aim merely was to tout a sale on potato chips. However, in the lingo of the day, the sexually suggestive subtext couldn’t be missed, no matter how unintentionally it was crafted.

An electronic marquee at a Fort Collins grocery store sports a message that could be read more than one way. Dallas Heltzell/BizWest

Using double entendres is a time-honored tradition in advertising, from dry cleaners’ “Drop Your Pants Here” signs to the late ’60s TV spot for Noxzema shaving cream in which a sultry-voiced woman urged a razor-wielding man to “Take it off. Take it all off.”

The trick is how to nudge the boundary of good taste without crossing it.

Dawn Putney, owner of Fort Collins-based Toolbox Creative, knew where to draw that line when she developed marketing for Gary Sproul’s Haunted Game Café, where patrons can buy coffee drinks while they play board games for free. Emblazoned on its website’s homepage are the words “Score With Your Wife!” Putney and Sproul decided that was OK but “Beat Your Kids!” probably went too far.

“It goes to that review process,” Putney said. “We might come up with some verbiage we like, but we may not have thought of it the same way the client does.”

The caution applies to images as well as words. Putney remembered using a stock photo of a male therapist massaging a woman for a local spa, not realizing that the man’s hands were positioned in a “V” resembling a pubic area – until a teacher told her that junior-high students were showing it around. “None of us thought of it,” Putney said, “but once you saw it, you couldn’t un-see it.”

So the simple answer is to expose a message to several sets of eyes before using it. That might have helped at Safeway – when the chips were down.

When a real-estate advertisement reads, “This beautiful three-bedroom home won’t last long,” it means to convey that you’d better buy the house now because it’ll sell quickly. But the message some readers might receive instead is that the place is structurally unsound.

Similarly, when The Eye spotted “Lays: Buy One, Get One” on a Safeway marquee in Fort Collins on Christmas Eve, we were certain the grocer’s aim merely was to tout a sale on potato chips. However, in the lingo of the day, the sexually suggestive subtext couldn’t be missed, no matter how unintentionally it was crafted.

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Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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