FCUK: Four Letters Too Far

It must have been the "kinky bugger" part that sent them over the edge.

The latest advertising scandal causing a stir across Britain revolves around a four-letter acronym from British clothing company French Connection.

While European advertising standards tend not to be as strict as elsewhere on topics such as nudity and innuendo, advertisers still occasionally crash into the limits. And in Britain, those limits were reached recently by the latest incarnation of French Connection's four-year-old campaign — FCUK.

By the way, FCUK stands for French Connection United Kingdom. Read quickly enough, of course, it could appear to say something quite different. And as if the current campaign wasn't racy enough, the outfit's latest slogan, "FCUKINKYBUGGER" has now been deemed by Britain's Advertising Standard's Authority to be altogether too much.

The company's television ads have been banned and the advertising author has slapped the firm with sanctions requiring them to gain approval on all of their future advertisements.

French Connection's response? Signs in the windows of their shops reading, "Sorry, FCUK."

'The World's Biggest FCUK'

The "Kinky Bugger" campaign was launched in February 2001 on about a dozen billboards in high profile sites around London, drawing 132 complaints. The script for their TV commercials was rejected days later.

The ad is still viewable — sanction free — on the company's Web site (see Web link, right).

Gary Ward, head of communications at the advertising authority told ABCNEWS it had been watching the FCUK ads since their debut in 1997, but that up until now the campaign had not drawn much negative attention.

The authority, a self-regulating body made up of advertisers, agencies and media owners, is known as a pretty understanding group. Repeat offenders like Benetton and Playboy TV have never suffered sanctions as harsh as those imposed on French Connection.

But the group had already issued French Connection a warning when, to announce the opening of their largest ever store, they took out a full page ad in a London paper that read, "The World's Biggest FCUK."

"No ad should cause serious or widespread offense whether about sexuality, race, religion or anything," explained Ward. He said French Connection pushed the envelope with the "Kinky Bugger" campaign and it drew too many complaints to ignore.

More Like a 'Cheeky Monkey'

French Connection claims the problem isn't that the campaign is too sexual but that everyone took it the wrong way.

"FCUKINKYBUGGER was meant to be taken in the same context as cheeky monkey [a term used to describe a naughty child]. It was never our intention to push the limits of acceptability and we apologize for any confusion." the company maintained in a statement issued after the sanctions were imposed.

"We're not trying to shock people," said Lilli Anderson of French Connection. "It's all meant to be taken light heartedly." When asked whether anyone in the office was shocked by the FCUKINKYBUGGER ad, or had suspected it might be taking things a little too far, Anderson reluctantly acknowledged that some may have been.

In case you were wondering, French Connection did bring the controversial campaign stateside to the home of the puritans about a year and a half ago. But while "FCUK all night long" and "FCUK my place now" may have been acceptable on billboards in the UK, plain old FCUK was banned from New York City taxis for its overt innuendo.

And if you're waiting for the "kinky bugger" campaign slogan to come to a billboard near you, don't hold your breath — French Connection didn't feel it would "translate."