Advertising ignorance: why your brand needs to do grammar gooder

Ryan Wallman
June 25, 2014

In the last few weeks alone, I have seen numerous examples – too many to count, in fact – of advertisements containing grammatical errors. Not deliberate errors. And not minor errors, either. Howlers. Stuff that made my eyes bleed. 

So I think it’s only fair to show you some of them and make your eyes bleed too.

Let’s start with this one. 

grammar 

I think we can assume that this headline is not meant to refer to a rock belonging to someone’s mother, and that ‘rock’ is therefore meant to be a (somewhat cringeworthy) verb. So what in the name of all that’s holy is that apostrophe doing there? And how did it get there? Was this ad written by a five-year-old? Did nobody check it before it went to print? 

So that’s pretty sloppy, you might think. Alas, it’s a paragon of technical accuracy compared to what’s to come.

Take this little gem, for example. (I’ve censored all identifying information to protect the, er, guilty.)

grammar

You’ll note that this paragraph features a comma splice and not one but TWO misplaced apostrophes – to mention only the especially egregious mistakes. This was part of a full-page ad, mind you, in a national newspaper.   

To me, that’s an abomination. 

And yet it gets worse. WARNING: the following images may offend some viewers.

The first is an excerpt from a magazine ad. I suggest you take a deep breath before reading it.

copywriting 

That’s quite a ‘sentence’, isn’t it? And there’s certainly no shortage of product features in there. It’s just a pity that they’ve been included at the expense of a few other things, like syntax.

My point here is not (only) to make fun of these errors. I draw attention to them because they give visible expression to an invisible shortcoming – namely, apathy. It strikes me that many of the people responsible for marketing communications, whether client- or agency-side, simply don’t care about getting this stuff right. 

And there is an argument, of course, that many customers don’t care about it either. Not knowing how to use an apostrophe doesn’t affect a company’s ability to make toasters, or to build bridges or even to save lives, so what does it matter? But I truly believe that this is a myopic view.

Why? 

Because it’s not the errors per se that are the problem. It’s not just that they make pedants feel vaguely murderous. The real issue for the marketers behind these brands is that every glaring grammatical mistake amounts to what economists call a signal. The more mistakes you see, the more inclined you’ll be to wonder if there are other respects in which the company is prepared to settle for the slapdash.

And there is evidence to support this argument. The recent AdWeek article ‘Bad grammar are bad for branding’ quoted a study from 2013, which found that:

74 percent of consumers pay attention to the correctness of the prose on company web sites, and 59 percent of respondents said they would avoid doing business with a company that’s made obvious errors.”

Pretty much every business nowadays claims to stand for ‘quality’, but how credibly? Would you believe that claim if every communication you saw from a business seemed but a contemptible testament to its own insouciance? 

I figure that if a company can afford to pay for media placement, then it can afford to have its ad written or proofread by someone who knows what he or she is doing. More to the point, perhaps, is that it can’t afford not to.

I’ll leave you with one last example. It’s not from an ad – it was actually a sign at a petrol station in my home town – but I think you’ll agree that it deserved a touch more scrutiny. Indeed, it’s not so much that there are errors as that sparks of rectitude flicker, ever so anomalously, between them. 

Enjoy. 

Pump

 By Ryan Wallman, Head of Copy at Wellmark.

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The Wellmark team regularly tweets about topics relating to brand strategy and marketing communications. Simply follow the Twitter feed most relevant to your business: @wellmark_corp (corporate communications and annual report design), @wellmark_health (healthcare communications and pharma marketing) or @wellmark_psf (online branding and thought leadership for professional services firms). 

 

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