I’m currently reading The Ice Monster by David Walliams with our seven-year-old.
The other evening we came to this section of the book:
“Watch me nuts!” yelled another as his roasted chestnuts were sent flying.
“Mind me plums!” shouted one as his barrow of fruit was trampled underfoot.
“You’ve crushed my chocolate balls!” hollered a familiar voice.
At this point a giggle came from said seven-year-old. “That sounds like…” well, you can imagine!
I’m not sure what it was about “chocolate balls” that suddenly helped the penny drop, but we then spent an enjoyable few minutes discussing the fact that plums and nuts are euphemisms for the same thing.
Which then became slightly awkward because “You plum!” is a gentle reprimand I use with him, so I had to explain that I wasn’t actually calling him a testicle in these situations! 😬
English can be a funny, but rather tricky language.
Another delightful moment occurred recently in a business setting. At a networking meeting Paul, from the excellent dent repair business Dent Rewind, was giving us a hands-on demonstration of the various techniques for removing dents from car bodywork.
At one point Paul showed us how he uses his hammer and pecker to remove dents. Being a highly professional bunch we, of course, fell about in giggles immediately and for the rest of the meeting took every opportunity to thank Paul for showing us his pecker.
Which got me thinking about the use of double entendre, and when they are (or are not) appropriate in professional copywriting.
Should you use double entendres in business content?
I’m always grateful to be a native English speaker as I find it so easy to conjure up linguistic puns – and it’s a fantastic language for giving you these opportunities. Which doesn’t mean that other languages don’t have this versatility, but the hybrid nature of English, evolving from so many different linguistic origins, does (in my opinion) give it an edge.
But should we take advantage of this when writing for our business?
Of course, there isn’t a straight answer.
For some businesses a bit of tongue in cheek humour aligns perfectly with their brand.
Innocent Drinks is a good example of a brand that uses humour to appeal to its target audience.
Here’s a recent Tweet from them as an example:
Maybe there’s something about the food industry that encourages humour? We write for a meat wholesaler whose friendly, approachable customer service is an important aspect of their business. They enjoy being a bit tongue in cheek, so this gives us licence to inject a little humour into our work for them. For example:
The butchery world is a pretty tight knit community and a shonky wholesaler will get a bad reputation faster than you can say “pulled pork”.
Using humour to position your brand can be a powerful tool, so long as it’s suitable for who you want your business to be and the audience you want to attract.
Even the most cheeky brands can go too far. If you’re wondering whether your turn of phrase might offend someone then it probably will, so proceed with caution.
Unless it really, really, really suits both your brand identity and your audience, you should steer away from any obviously offensive language and messaging.
Take the recent comments by Dilbert creator Scott Adams. Maybe you think that he is a blatant racist. Perhaps you think his comments were simply a misguided attempt at satire. You might even agree with him. It doesn’t matter – the upshot is the same. In one instant he destroyed his brand and his business.
Having said all that, here’s an example when it did (arguably) work to be offensive. Post-toilet-cleansing-gel (an eco-friendly alternative to wet wipes) brand Wype went for a deliberately provocative rebrand last year.
Love it or hate it, it certainly got this small brand noticed!
However, trying to find humour in the topics of race, gender, disabilities and politics is best avoided unless you’re very, very careful.
It can benefit even the most technical or formal business to show its human side from time to time, so long as it’s done in an appropriate and authentic way.
The 1st April, April Fool’s Day, is a traditional opportunity for even the most serious brands to show their lighter side.
Car manufacturers seem to particularly enjoy investing a bit of time and effort into this. For example, here’s an Instagram post from 1st April 2021 from BMW:
In fact, April Fool’s Day is one of the few days when I still make an effort to buy a print newspaper, just for the pleasure of spotting the joke adverts.
Stick to the rules
Above all, you need to ensure that you’re adhering to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) advertising codes.
The rules include:
Marketing communications must not contain anything that is likely to cause serious or widespread offence. Particular care must be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of: age; disability; gender; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; and sexual orientation. Compliance will be judged on the context, medium, audience, product and prevailing standards.
Read an example ruling against Tesco last year, as a result of advertising which replaced expletives with the names of food (eg “What a load of shiitake”).
Try our cunning linguists
Being a bit of a James Bond fan, I couldn’t finish this article without at least one Bond-inspired pun (there are oh so many to choose from).
You always were a cunning linguist, James
This is said by Moneypenny in Tomorrow Never Dies when on the phone to 007 while he was supposedly having a Danish lesson (but you can imagine what he was actually getting up to with the rather attractive teacher).
If you’re looking for copy for your website, email or social, whether pun-laden or pun-lite, our writers will create perfectly pitched copy to suit your business and your audience. Find out more about our content services.