Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe referred to it as 'coarse, smutty, unnecessary and childish', and the Advertising Standards Authority has spent much of the past eight years ruling against it. Yet the slogan has adorned the chests of a whole generation of 20-somethings. French Connection's FCUK has certainly succeeded in keeping the fashion chain in the headlines - not least when reports that the slogan was being removed from T-shirts and ads appeared in every UK newspaper last month.
The fact that the news was incorrect did not stop the papers' glee. Though it is fair to say that the cheekier interpretations have been toned down, it is a reflection of FCUK's notoriety that the media was so keen to hail its demise.
The affair raises the issue of how marketers judge when the time is right to move on from a long-running slogan or campaign. It is a difficult call, and the wisdom of making such a change can be hard to assess even after the event.
Some campaigns can outlast their welcome as marketers can't quite decide whether it is time for something new. 'Even when faced with numbers showing that the return on investment from a campaign has fallen, it can be difficult for a marketer to make the decision to end it,' says Ingrid Murray, managing director of Ninah Consulting.
In order to help marketers along, Ninah uses modelling to assess the value of different aspects of the marketing mix. But even then creativity can be too subjective to judge. 'It is often hard for marketers to acknowledge that a well-loved campaign is no longer working,' adds Murray.
This is especially hard when, like French Connection, a brand has a slogan that has been woven throughout the business. The value of FCUK, says Alex Kuropatwa, managing director of Delaney Lund Knox Warren, is that it can be used for so many elements of the retailer's operations, from ads to bags. 'It is a rare thing to find an idea that is so versatile, and it makes it that much harder to change,' he says.
Yet some marketers cannot resist making changes at the first hint that a campaign no longer has its former cachet. Incoming marketing directors with a hankering to make a mark have prompted more than a few wholesale changes of direction unsupported by research, according to Gordon Pincott, global development director at Millward Brown.
'Creating yet another ad in a series does not tend to make a career,' he says. 'All the evidence is that long-running campaigns are worth their weight in gold, but they are often chopped and changed far more than is necessary.'
Of course, there is no definitive answer to the question of when to make a change, and hindsight often leads companies to realise a decision may have been premature. Last month, for example, Orange returned to the optimistic, brand-building style of its early 'The future's bright, the future's Orange' ads, recognising that the positioning was of value.
A recent TV ad showed people trying to communicate during the power cuts in New York two years ago, when they could not use their mobiles. The most recent ad features two people dancing through a garden, with the slogan shortened to 'The future's bright'. 'We wanted to get across the optimism, without implying that everything is about Orange,' says brand marketing director Pippa Dunn.
The decision to move away from the brand-building ads had been taken because Orange needed its activity to emphasise a different type of message, focusing on product and price.
Such strategy rethinks are a common reason for a change of campaign, as are a need to target a different age group or sex. Indeed, many different pressures can contribute to a decision to retain or overhaul an established campaign, and not all of them relate to the immediate bottom line. Marketers or chief executives have been known to end a campaign while it is still delivering a return because they want new ads to signal a wholesale shift in culture to staff and investors.
For example, WH Smith's campaign featuring Nicholas Lyndhurst ended in 2002 after six years because the retailer's new management wanted to flag up a fresh approach, despite the fact that agency Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO believed the advertising still had potential.
Pressure to globalise a brand message can also bring a sudden end to a campaign that had been working, although it is a pressure that BMW UK has so far managed to resist (see panel).
A change of agency is another common precursor to a change of campaign, especially if the incoming agency can sense that a marketer was beginning to question the value of a long-running campaign. But it need not always apply.
In 1998 a global realignment of PepsiCo's advertising business meant that the Walkers account shifted from BMP DDB to Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. The latter saw the value of the Gary Lineker campaign and recommended continuing with it. Cilla Snowball, chairman of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, believes the campaign has continued to be successful because it 'has the ability to deliver news about the brand in a fresh and engaging manner'.
Agencies and clients are also more likely to tire of a campaign before consumers do, as they view the ads day after day.
'As a general rule, the chattering classes of marketing will move you on from a campaign far faster than is necessary,' says Laurence Green, a partner at Fallon, who worked on the long-running Stella Artois campaign at Lowe London (see panel). 'But you don't want to wait to change until the public is bored and the last chav is throwing out your T-shirts,' he says.
Making a change also throws up the challenge of what is to come next - which can be a significant pressure following a well-loved campaign.
Marketers often opt for a degree of continuity and try to maintain the spirit of a positioning. When Unilever ended its PG Tips 'chimps' campaign, it was replaced with ads featuring the cartoon T-birds. The company wanted advertising that would appeal more to younger consumers - the T-bird family were based on 20-something house-sharers - but would retain the warmth of the chimps.
However, it is rare that an agency comes up with a replacement campaign that pleases everyone. More often, marketers go through a period of evolving a message, conscious that every campaign is being compared with its long-running predecessor. When Mars changed its 'Work, rest and play' strapline in 1997, it moved first to the slogan 'Every day should be this good'.
After a year the slogan was changed to 'Pleasure you can't measure'. Last month it was switched to 'Another way to make your day' (see panel).
This kind of process appears to be an unavoidable consequence of a long-running campaign. Subsequent marketing can have a hard time measuring up.
Changer: Mars Campaign: 'Work, rest and play' Duration: 1959-1997 Agency: Created by Masius & Ferguson (later to become D'Arcy). Now run by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO Replaced by: 'Every day should be this good', followed by 'Pleasure you can't measure'. Now 'Another way to make your day'. Budget: (Nielsen Media Research, year to June) £1.1m
It was the ultimate in rational positionings, backed by numerous mountaineers citing Mars bars as the only thing that kept them alive, but after 38 years consumers were no longer as motivated by the idea of an energy kick.
At the same time, regulators were casting a keen eye over the veracity of a claim such as 'helps you work, rest and play.' Ending such an iconic campaign meant Mars had to tread carefully.
It dropped the slogan, but continued images of a Mars bar's energy-giving properties. Later ads, produced by a series of agencies, worked through a collection of slogans. The company has never really found a positioning strong enough to replace the original idea.
Keeper: Walkers Campaign: Gary Lineker Duration: 1995-present Agency: Created by BMP DDB (now DDB London). Transferred to Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO in 1998 Budget: (Nielsen Media Research, year to June) £15m
Following a cull of long-running ads in the late-90s, Walkers' Gary Lineker campaign has become the UK's oldest home-grown series of TV ads. It hinges on Lineker's well-behaved public image, founded on a long football career during which he was never booked by a referee. Lineker has appeared in 50 executions, with a dazzling list of female partners, involving ever-more complicated ways for him to steal some crisps. The campaign has become as bound up with the career of the original client, Martin Glenn, as it has with Lineker. Glenn has consistently defended the use of the former footballer in the face of criticism from anti-obesity groups. With Glenn about to depart from PepsiCo, the company and AMV have emphasised that the campaign is managed by Walkers' marketers.
Changer: Orange Campaign: 'The future's bright, the future's Orange' Duration: 1994-2001. Returned 2005 Agency: Created by WCRS. Now Mother Replaced by: Product and price-focused campaigns Budget: (Nielsen Media Research, year to June) £63m
During the mid- to late-90s, Orange wrote the book on mobile phone advertising, establishing a modern, aspirational image with a series of campaigns featuring moody, surreal imagery. The aim was to make people feel optimistic about mobile technology. The priorities changed as competition in the phone market meant ads needed to drive revenue. By 2001, 'The future's bright, the future's Orange' strapline remained, but the ads had become more product-focused. By 2003, the 'hard-nosed businessman' had appeared. A subsequent campaign featured the US head of a phone company auditioning actors and directors. But Orange realised the brand was failing to connect with consumers on an emotional level and decided to return to a more optimistic style of marketing.
Keeper: BMW Campaign: 'The ultimate driving machine' Agency: Created by Fallon in the US. Handled by WCRS in the UK Duration: 1980-present Budget: (Nielsen Media Research, year to June) £22m
BMW ads have carried the same line in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand for 25 years. In the rest of the world, campaigns use another long-running slogan, 'Sheer driving pleasure'. The company has considered dropping one of the slogans in order to run a global campaign. But according to BMW UK advertising manager Suzanne Gray, tracking studies in Britain have suggested 'The ultimate driving machine' still delivers significant benefits.
It is not just an ad slogan, it appears on every piece of marketing communication issued by the car maker. And it has spawned a whole set of design templates: two white boxes in the style of business cards appear in the corner of press ads, containing a description of the model on the left and the BMW logo on the right.
Changer: PG Tips Campaign: Chimps Duration: 1956-2001 Agency: BMP DDB Replaced by The T-birds, a cartoon family of birds Budget: (Nielsen Media Research, year to June) £6m
Even consumers too young to have seen the original 'Mr Shifter - you hum it, I'll sing it' ad, featuring two chimps trying to haul a piano, would immediately associate it with PG Tips. The chimp ads remain enormously popular four years after being replaced by the family of T-birds created by Aardman Animation, and regularly top polls of consumers' all-time favourites.
The chimps brought PG Tips enormous brand value, but by the turn of the century they were becoming less effective. Brand owner Unilever decided to pension them off in favour of the house-sharing T-birds in a bid to attract younger tea drinkers. Yet since the chimps disappeared, PG Tips has lost market share to Tetley. The ads are probably not the only reason for this, but the campaign has failed to stop the slide.
Keeper: Stella Artois Campaign: 'Reassuringly expensive' Agency: Lowe London Duration: 1990-present Budget: (Nielsen Media Research, year to June) £10m
Back in 1990, Stella Artois was a niche player in need of a positioning to mark it out from a crowd of lagers. The idea of 'Reassuringly expensive' gave it an original, premium image. All the ads demonstrate the lengths to which people will go for a Stella. The first in the series, 'Jacques', showed a French flower-seller trading carnations for single bottles of the beer. One of the most memorable, 'Red shoes', featured a young man, his grandmother and a barmaid. These days, Stella is no longer the classy young pretender, but its ads bestow a quirky charm that belies its market-leading position.
The UK lager market is under pressure at the moment and, along with its major rivals, Stella is losing sales globally. Yet the company has committed to continuing its 15-year campaign.
This article was first published on Marketing