Over the years, our industry has regularly been hauled over the coals for an offensive or profane word slipping through the net and ending up replacing the name of the intended addressee, and then being printed and mailed. This has recently happened with a Tesco Clubcard campaign, as you may have heard in the newswhere a rather ‘descriptive’ phrase was used in replacement of the genuine recipients name. Click the link if you dare, or you can Google it of course (Other search engines are available) to satisfy your curiosity. Unsurprisingly, the press took great glee in publicising it and the social media posts drew the usual negative ‘junk mail’ comments from those with an agenda about our industry. 

As those of us who have been in the industry for a number of years are aware, this type of incident has unfortunately occurred numerous times over the years. For example, a gentleman in Sunderland had his name replaced with ‘Mr Dick Head’ in a PPI compensation mailing. Other examples include the recipient’s name being changed to ‘Mr Isis Terroriste’ and ‘Mr Getout Ofengland’ – both courtesy of a campaign by O2. In fact, as long ago as 1991, Precision Marketing magazine reported a famous, or infamous, incident with an American Express mailing where an item was addressed to ‘Dear Rich Fat Bastard’.  Check out the press cutting below! 

Don’t forget though, that people can also be quite creative. Unless you happened to come across it in a database, what profanity checking table would include the words ‘melon’ and ‘porkface’ that would have stopped a mailing piece being addressed to ‘Dear Mr Melon Porkface’, as happened with a BT mailing a few years ago and reported by Decision Marketing.

There are of course mechanisms in place to search for profanities in data which to be honest, is not terribly difficult. Cygnus and SwiftPAF both do this of course as you are no doubt aware. In fact, our profanity checking is probably the most comprehensive available – is this a reflection on our collective backgrounds I hear you ask? In Cygnus, users are able to check not just for specific words in name and address fields, but also profanities that span fields or are concatenated within them. Users can also add their own words to the library – should there be any we haven’t come across yet of course! In addition, the Cygnus scripting module, Splerge©, enables the user to search for specific strings of text within any data fields, by referencing a self-compiled text file of relevant words.

Of course, it’s all well and good to flag a number of records where a potential profanity has been identified, but it is still reliant on the software user to pore over the flagged records checking for any obvious issues, and ignore the many that may be genuine such as ladies called ‘Fanny’, and men called ‘Willy’. How long does the user keep pressing the right arrow to eyeball the data, stopping every now and then for a giggle, before carrying on and checking all 573 records! That quantity is made up of course, but the point is that it is essentially the responsibility of the user to act on what the software is reporting, and no doubt some will slip through the net.

As an industry of course, we need to ensure that we provide solutions, but also that these solutions are used and understood, and that a diligent approach is adopted.  We know our customers are responsible in managing either their own campaigns, or campaigns on behalf of their clients, but we also recognise that not everything can be stopped. We just need to keep looking!