Urban Outfitters' Curse-word Filled Holiday Catalog Sparks Outrage

The controversial Urban Outfitters 2012 holiday catalogIn what may be an effort to connect with a younger crowd, Urban Outfitters has laced its 2012 holiday catalog with words that most news outlets aren't allowed to print, prompting parents to call for a boycott of the trendy retail store.

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"My whole family will be boycotting Urban Outfitters because of your profanity-laced products," Mary Streetman Lewis posted on the company's Facebook page. "SHAME ON YOU!!!!"

The products themselves aren't offensive: Candles, photo albums, mugs, and other knick knacks. It's what's on them that's causing outrage. One $24 candle, for example, looks like the classic LOVE sculpture, except that the four letter Urban Outfitters' version starts with F and ends with K. (It's available in the "Gifts for Guys that Don't Suck" section of the retailer's website.)

Other profanity-laced products include "Magic S**t" (a slime-like "stress reliever"), hip flasks emblazoned with curse words, and a throw pillow that reads "Carpe That F***ing Diem." A glass reads "Merry Christmas, B*tch," and wrapping paper features curse words instead of Christmas cheer. Also raising eyebrows: decanters and iPhone holders shaped like guns and plenty of pot-themed merchandise. (You can view their entire catalog here.)

While older consumers may be outraged over the casual profanity, teens and 20-somethings say that curse words are far less shocking now than they were a generation ago.

"Most of the common swears people say have two meanings and because one of them isn't good, the word is considered rude, which it can be, but not always." points out "thecherrykas," a writer at Teen Ink. The F word "can mean 'oops,' 'ouch,' 'sex,' or it can just be a meaningless intensifier. So obviously not all forms of the word are bad."

Still, the edgy catalog has driven some consumers to complain.

"We actually have spent money at your stores for our college kids. Will NEVER again!!" Joni Cline wrote on Facebook. "Christmas is a religious holiday for much of the world....how disrespectful you are in your attempt to be edgy and cool."

Urban Outfitters did not reply to a request for comment, and it's not clear how this publicity will affect holiday sales.

"Not all publicity is good publicity by any means," Ben Grossman, a marketing and advertising strategist at Jack Morton Worldwide, told Yahoo! Shine. "Complaints about brand experiences and even negative press can and do have a profoundly long-term effect on brands."

Urban Outfitters—which also owns Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain, and BHLDN—is no stranger to controversy. In fact, the Philadelphia-based chain seems to bank on it.

In 2012 alone, Urban Outfitters was taken to task for their $100 Wood Wood Kellog T-Shirt, which featured a Holocaust-like Star of David patch on the pocket; a line of shirts for teenagers that glorified drinking; St. Patrick's Day themed clothing that offended the Irish; pictures of girls making out with other girls; pushing online shopping during Superstorm Sandy; and blatantly copying designs from other artists. They are routinely boycotted on social media, and it doesn't seem to bother the brand one bit.

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But there's something different about this latest controversy. In the past, problems cropped up when the brand's message clashed with their target audience's social values. "In this case, however, the controversy is about core products that are being showcased through Urban Outfitters' brand touch points," Grossman pointed out to Yahoo! Shine. "In other words, they're simply a reflection of the in-store experience that has been designed to appeal to its core audience."

There's a fine line between appealing to new customers and alienating the people who are paying the bills but, as marketing expert John Tantillo points out, the company is focused on their target audience—young hipsters who are likely to see profanity as ironic rather than offensive.

"Remember, when you talk about your brand, it's all about your customers," he told Fox News. "Not the parents of your customers."