Pedestrians pass in front of 'Urban Outfitters' on 6th Ave. and 14th street in Manhattan. (Photo: Getty Images)
For Urban Outfitters, the choice of being naughty or nice in its 2012 Christmas holiday catalog was easy: naughty wins.
The edgy apparel seller has shipped out a holiday catalog that's chock-full of naughtiness, including a $16 "It was f---ing awesome" photo album and a block candle that boldly spells out the f-word in wax. There's even an $18 "Let's f---ing reminisce" book.
Just a few years ago, Urban Outfitters might have received some serious, verbal raps on the knuckles from parents and protesters angered by the ultra-spicy language. But in today's social-media environment, along with those verbal raps, it's also receiving some surprising kudos from brand and marketing gurus.
"It's brilliant, explosive, short-term marketing that generates buzz," says Marian Salzman, a national trend-spotter and CEO of Havas PR. "It's the right voice for the teen market."
Over the years, many of the most successful fashion brands -- from Calvin Klein to Benetton to Abercrombie & Fitch -- have relied upon racy imagery in their ads and catalogs to generate buzz, PR and sales. In a social-media age, however, such efforts appear to be emboldened.
"Shocking imagery sells," says Kim Friday, senior fashion editor at Women's Wear Daily. "On Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook, this is a way to get buzz."
Not everyone is impressed.
"It's all about getting up on Instagram or someone's Facebook page," brand guru Peter Madden says. "But this kind of marketing really isn't so rebellious. It's just kind of stupid."
Worse than that, says Monica Cole, director of the activist Christian group One Million Moms, "it's tasteless and vulgar." Her organization, which is affiliated with the American Family Association, isn't calling for a boycott but is asking its members to think hard before purchasing any Urban Outfitter products. "They'll be losing business from conservative families," she says.
Executives from Urban Outfitters declined to return phone calls or respond to e-mails for this story. But one catalog guru says the company clearly knows its audience.
"Good marketing requires that you communicate with your customers on their same wavelength," says Jim Padgitt, president of Direct Marketing Insights, a catalog consulting firm. "They're speaking the language of their customers."
Specifically, to today's teens, the f-word doesn't even mean what it means to most adults, Salzman says. It no longer even has sexual connotations, she says. "It's almost a synonym for 'give me a break.' "