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Wordplay: Funny or Offensive?

posted: 11.22.13 by Donna Winchell

Puns have been called the lowest form of humor, and wordplay is finding its way into ads these days in ways that some are finding humorous and others merely disgusting. It’s just one more example of how people will argue over anything.

Take, for example, the billboard for a flooring company that shouts in huge letters, “Get layed.” Some find it funny while others think it sends kids the wrong message. (A few just find it grammatically incorrect.) Then there is the billboard for the Minnesota Department of Health that shows the few inches of an obese man’s back between his shirt and his pants and, as in dozens of plumber jokes, his butt crack. The text: “Cover Your Butt. Get a Colonoscopy.” A businessman whose office is beside the highway isn’t too thrilled that every customer is welcomed by the larger-than-life derrière, but a representative for the health department feels they went right up to the line but didn’t cross it.

K-Mart is trying to breathe some life into its online ads by suggesting, if not literally using, crude language. It’s easy to misinterpret the repeated “ship my pants” or “big gas prices” in their recent series of ads. The company makes the point by showing parents rushing to shield their children from what they only think they hear.

Then there is the K-Mart commercial for Joe Boxer that has elicited millions of Facebook postings and tweets. The ad begins with six men in tuxedoes holding hand bells. Then the white-draped table in front of them and the bells are whisked away, and they are revealed to be wearing Joe Boxers in festive colors. They squat and then proceed to “shake their shorts” to the sounds of  “Jingle Bells,” with each man chiming one note of the musical scale. The response has been fairly predictable–as has the wordplay. Comments range from threats to never enter a K-Mart store again and reminders to the store that it is not a male strip club to praise for the ad’s creativity and calls to “lighten up!” My teenaged son’s contribution to the discussion: What if it were women shaking their breasts to “Jingle Bells”?

Whether these ads are corrupting America’s youth or simply providing a few chuckles, they are another example of how opportunities for argument permeate our everyday lives.

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