New Marketing Strategy: Telling Your Customers to F*** Off

Firstly, I should start this story with a little background information. Some of you may remember a post from around Christmastime a couple of years ago (e-mail me for the password) regarding my family situation – my parents had separated a few years prior, and sadly, my relationship with my mother had subsequently dissolved. A few things happened throughout the years between us; things were said and tears were shed, and I spent a long time trying to maintain the relationship before finally, following lots of kind words and advice from the blogosphere, deciding to temporarily opt out – with the hopes that one day, we’d both be on the same page again. Going through Christmases, and especially wedding planning without my mum was hard – but something I’ve learned in recent years is that you can keep holding the door open, but one must make the choice intrinsically to walk through it. And now, I’m thrilled to tell you that since a few days before the wedding, she’s back in my life. In the grand scheme of things, holding onto past hurts isn’t going to pave the way for a positive future, and after receiving a lengthy letter composed of the words I’d always hoped to hear, I decided to let go, run back to that door, and welcome her in with open arms. The feeling was finally mutual, and we’ve been getting together every week or two for the last few months, talking for hours, sharing coffee, music, going shopping, and doing all the mother-daughter things I’ve been wishing for for such a long time. 🙂

So last week, I met her at Starbucks, and about two minutes into the conversation her eyes widened, and she excitedly exclaimed “I know what I was going to tell you!!” She proceeded to tell me how she’d just come from causing “a rumpus” in the local chemist’s. Oh dear, I thought, quietly counting my blessings I hadn’t been there. She’d been in a queue at the postal counter, when she noticed a big display over in the makeup aisle – a giant advertisement for a new mascara from L’Oréal Paris, displaying an attractive lady looking awfully happy about the fact that she was flipping her photographer off. My mum pulled out her phone, eager to show me the evidence she’d snapped, and my jaw hit the floor. There it was, in all its glory: The V-sign. And worse, the brand is holding a vlogging contest – entitled “Show Us Your V-Moment!”

Now, some of you may be wondering what the kerfuffle is all about. In England, flipping the V (with palm facing inward) is equivalent of giving someone the middle finger. The origin is said to have come from the gestures of longbowmen fighting in the English army at the Battle of Agincourt (1415), during the Hundred Years’ War. According to the story, the French claimed they would cut off the arrow-shooting fingers of all the English longbowmen after they’d won the battle, however, (naturally) the English came out victorious, and displayed the sign showing their two fingers intact as an insult to the French. Several headlines involving the Vs include a front-page tabloid proclaiming “Up Yours, Delors” with a large hand, flipping the Vs, superimposed over a Union Jack; a show-jumper being disqualified from competition over a televised V-sign at the judges; Liam Gallagher famously giving the Vs regularly to paparazzi; the opening credits of Buffy showing a British character insulting another character with the Vs; footballers being permanently banned from the national team, and comically, George Bush attempting to give the peace sign to a group of Australian farmers (where the sign means much the same as in the UK) – and instead telling them to f*** off.  Check out The Mirror‘s top ten celebrity V-flickers here.

My mother explained the significance to the lady at the postal counter, who immediately got on the phone to her manager, saying things like “customer complaining about a display with a profanity on it” and “yes, I think we should too…” before informing my mum they’d be pulling it from the shop floor. “It’s funny,” the clerk said, “L’Oréal’s a French company. Do you think they’re subtly sticking it to the Brits?”  My jaw, once again, came within grazing distance of the floor, and I quickly pulled out my phone to see if there was a European version of the ad. Sure enough, there was – with the palm facing the other way, displaying an innocent V for Victory. I couldn’t help but laugh, and we both decided that now we have different surnames, we could get away with writing in and complaining, and hoping for some free schwag!

What do you reckon? Are L’Oréal deliberately taking part in a less-than-subliminal advertising message – or is this a hilarious, innocent mistake? I feel bad for all the girls entering the contest – you might “become a YouTube star” for “showing your V”, but perhaps not quite for the reasons you were hoping.

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53 comments

  1. This was so interesting I had to ring Martin up and tell him straight away! How cheeky of those French, haha.

    It seems the French clearly haven’t gotten over their rivalry with England then, all these years later 🙂

  2. Haha, great culture lesson here, loved the “celebrity V’s”! Whether a jab at the English or innocent mistake, even if it is the latter it’s a big demonstration of ignorance on L’Oreal’s part… Great Post!

  3. first of all em i am so happy that you and your mum are talking again. family drama is so hard to deal with, and it happens all the time, people fall out and before you know it it’s been years and you wonder if it’s really worth the stand you took originally to not be in each others lives. i’m so happy for you that yuo are both finally on the same page, i know it’s been hard for you and you’ve worked hard at this, and good things come back to good people em!

    the l’oreal poster was hilarious!!! i didn’t realise the V was just an english thing…

    1. Yep, so it would seem!

      Thanks for the sweet words about the family situation. It’s amazing that after such a long time, things finally seem to be okay 🙂

  4. Huh, okay, I’d never heard of that before!!!

    Also, ecstatic that things are being patched up on the maternal front. I don’t believe family have to be close, necessarily, but it’s nice to at least be able to get along, and it sounds like things are on the up and up between you and your mum.

  5. Your story with your mom is incredible, that’s a dream come true. I cried when I read it!! I’m so unbelievably happy you’ve been able to amend the wounds of the past and forgive each other. That’s just wonderful.

    But yeah, lol, the meat of your post with the V sign… that’s so interesting! It’s big in the states, I do that sign all the time. It’s my gangsta look, what I use when I say “oh man look at me I’m a bad ass” kinda thing. Or you could just say “yeah, I’m down” with it. I would say that was definitely a harmless mistake. I’ll have to be careful when I make my way across the pond!

    “however, (naturally) the English came out victorious, “…. lol.

  6. hahaha, that’s so funny–ohhhhh advertising. i bet someone did that on purpose just to create controversy, get some publicity, and then apologize graciously and get off the hook. wow.
    on a different note entirely: i’m so happy for you that you and your mom have patched things up. one of my close friends went through the exact same thing this year, only they didn’t reconnect until just AFTER her wedding. it was a hard time, but they’re so happy to have each other again. i love watching them now. 😀

    1. Aww, I’m glad for your friend! Funny how weddings can be so stressful, but bring about such good things sometimes and really put life into perspective. 🙂

  7. That’s so strange!! When companies advertise in different countries they should definitely be aware of simple things like profanities in that country, etc. I feel like marketing teams exist to take care of things like this, and it’s super weird that something so obvious for England slipped through the cracks. That would be crazy if they did it purposely?! But probably really bad for business, haha!

  8. Woah! That’s nuts! I love that your mom called them on it too. I can’t believe no one else had said anything!

    And I’m so glad that you and your mom patched things up. Mother daughter relationships can be so complicated, and it’s great that y’all are in a better place now 🙂

  9. Wow, I learned something new reading your post. I had no idea that the “V” meant that! Not that I really ever make that sign, but it’s good to know NOT to make it should I ever get the chance to travel abroad! Haha!

    And so glad your relationship with your mum has been repaired! Feels good to have peace once again, doesn’t it? Oh, and thanks for the comment on my mom’s birthday post. 🙂

  10. lol – That’s hilarious! I actually think I heard somewhere of the “backwards” peace-sign meaning the complete opposite. Gotta love subliminal messages in marketing!

  11. That V sign is so common over here in the US, I didn’t think anything of it! As an eternal optimist, I am going to say is was an innocent mistake. Young girls do it all the time, and it is a message of Hollywood coolness, like the Kardashian sisters (my best example). Perhaps this will change the meaning of the V over your way (if you want it to), and people won’t be flipped off anymore! 🙂

  12. I am thrilled to pieces about your resuming your relationship with your mom. So many people are never able to do that, and it is a tragedy when that happens. I didn’t know about the V thing. I must be living under a rock. Here I thought everyone on the road was wishing me victory in life.

  13. So, um… I’m a little confused.

    Was this sign at a British post office? Or was it in Canada? As far as I know the backwards peace sign is just a British thing (which I learned from watching Spike on Buffy), but I’m not sure that the rules apply elsewhere. If that poster was only shown in America, I’m not sure it would be a big deal, except to British ex-pats. If you’re mom saw this in England, that would definitely be bad, but I am just a little confused about the “where” part of the story.

    If anything, I think the phrase “show us your V moment” is vulgar because I always associate V as VAGINA! Especially in a campaign marketed towards girls? It might not be obviously bad, but it’s still tacky and poorly worded.

    1. I love symbols like that because it is fascinating that they have difference cultural significance depending on where you go. Like the ‘hook em’ horns for Texas has a bad meaning in Italy.It is funny that one is a peace sign in America and one is an insult in Britain. I am glad I am not the only one who thought of something sexual. I thought ” show us your V moment” was referring to losing ones virginity. Companies really should be aware of cultural things like this, before they go to print! That would be crazy if they did it on purpose. Love this post!

  14. I am so happy that your relationship with your mom has been repaired, it seems like that hardly ever happens and it was so nice to read about.

    regarding the V. I hadn’t heard that (although I’ve been in Australia for 4 years), that’s good to know…I’ll be careful now 🙂

  15. This has got to be the funniest mother-daughter bonding-after-hardship story I’ve ever read.

    This also reminds me of the adverts for the video game, Left4Dead 2, where there’s a V-flip on the game’s cover art. Obviously, the box art looks different in the UK — it better!

  16. I have to agree with Allison on this…I think it’s just a vulgar way of saying something. “V moment?!” It sounds kinda dirty…

    I know I wouldn’t have picked up on the slang at all, so I’m not sure it’s such a big deal. I know it is in England, but unless the campaign is running in England as well, I think it’s fine. 🙂

  17. Ahahahahahaha. This is new! I never realized that the V sign could mean flipping someone off. I should use this in the office. This is my safest revenge kinda thing. :p

  18. UM I had no idea about the whole V thing!!! Good thing you told us!!! 🙂

    Glad to hear that the relationship between you and your mom is resolved. It’s takes a forgiving, big person to let someone back in your life…I do believe you just showed how big your heart is 🙂

    1. Aww, thank you so much. I learned a really valuable lesson through it all – that people have to be on the same page (or at least meet halfway) for there to be any forward movement. I’ve seen it happen where people go a whole LIFETIME without swallowing a bit of pride, and end up regretting it and not be able to do anything about it. I’m so glad we are finally able to see eye to eye 🙂

  19. WOW! I had no idea. You learn something new every day! I’ll be sure to remember t his if I ever find myself with the chance to vacation in England. 🙂

  20. lol maybe because it’s canada, they thought it didn’t matter (like in the US). it would be a little funny if they were trying to get a dig at the UK, but it’s not the best idea in the long run

  21. It never ceases to amaze me that international companies do things like this. We live in a world that is increasingly cosmopolitan, it seems likely that your mum wasn’t the only one offended. Also, I’m so incredibly happy that you and your mum have reconnected. Family is so difficult. Eventhough you always love them, sometimes you have to let go to be able to move forward.

  22. First off – I am so happy to hear that you and your mom are talking and are in a positive place! That is awesome, Em!

    Secondly – wow, I am pretty disappointed in L’Oreal! They should know better!!

  23. I’m sure (or, I hope I’m sure) that it’s an honest mistake. Funny the things we do when we’re not aware of the cultural implications. There’s no way I would’ve thought to check on something our culture thinks is so innocent, but you have to. Especially in ads and marketing. Great life lesson. Is that why you asked about L’Oreal on twitter the other day?

  24. BAH HAHAHAH!!! This is HILARIOUS! Thanks for that little lesson.

    Also. Tons of bells sounded when I thought about Spike in the opening credits of Buffy! #AWESOME

  25. While playing the lullaby playlist on YouTube for my baby to fall asleep, one of those “V moment” ads came on and woke her up. Now I know what all the hype is about but I hate the damn ads during lullabies. LOL.

  26. When I first saw this post, I thought YOU were that woman on the Blackberry phone picture. 🙂

    Anyways, I didn’t what this expression meant to the British people until you wrote about it. Very interesting!

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