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By Theresa Howard, USA TODAY
Updated 10/31/2006 9:40 AM ET

Puppets gasp at how their friend talks of the Dodge Caliber.

The Federal Communications Commission continues to crack down on broadcast TV decency. There is even talk about rules for cable. But that hasn't stopped Dodge (DCX), Comcast (CMCSA) and Volkswagen from flirting with language limits, which are the same for ads as for the shows in which they air.

They have created ads that make obvious from the context that a character said a banned word — particularly the "s" word popular in slang — but trail off or "bleep" so the actual word is not heard.

"We ad people try to find ways to call attention to what we're doing," says ad expert Suzanne Powers, chief strategy officer for agency TBWA/Chiat/Day. The "bleep is unexpected. It's an interesting way to disrupt the viewer and do something out of the ordinary."

VW. In new Passat ads passengers surviving a crash blurt out, "Holy ... !" It trails off before the banned word as the announcer says, "Safe Happens."
"One of the most critical things was to have the dialogue and whole scene be extremely natural," says Kurt Schneider, VW's general manager, creative content. "For anyone who's been in an accident, one of the first things you do is curse."

Dodge. In a Caliber ad, a focus group of Muppet-like characters laments that the car does not make them "feel warm and fuzzy." Most distressed is little Binky, who exclaims, "It scares the (bleep) out of me." That's the reaction market researchers in the ad wanted for their "anything but cute" car. "We're trying to straddle good taste and getting attention," says Mark Spencer, senior brand manager. "We think we've straddled it quite well."

VIDEO: See the Dodge ad.

Comcast. The cable service promotes its Internet speed with ads that show a couple facing cleanup after a dinner party. After the man gets a "Power Boost" from the cable line, he crashes through kitchen cleanup at lightning speed. Her response: "Holy ..."

"The end of the ad is not for shock value," says Jeanne Russo of Comcast.

"The ad supports the idea of making fast, faster."

FCC rules ban profanity on broadcast radio and TV from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. It levied nearly $4 million in fines last year and took 327,198 decency complaints (vs. 233,531 in 2004).

FCC spokeswoman Rosemary Kimball would not say whether there have been complaints about these ads, but networks have been cautious. Only NBC has approved the Dodge Caliber ad for airing. The Comcast ads have aired nationally after 8 p.m. Because of the realistic crash, the VW ads air only after 9 p.m.

And one advertiser actually removed a "bleep" to show it wasn't trying to get away with anything. A McDonald's ad that ran in New York this year promoted its "Dollar Menu" as "so good, it's obscene" and bleeped an "f" word. After complaints, McDonald's "de-bleeped" the ad to reveal the "f" word: free.

Posted 10/31/2006 1:34 AM ET
Updated 10/31/2006 9:40 AM ET
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