By Deidre Bastian
Say what? Bad grammar in advertising? Is using bad sentence structures in an advertisement an excuse to appear laid back and cavalier, or does it make for a sleeker advert? Although not everyone will notice or care about bad grammar as much as my fellow English majors, it will probably still leave most scratching their heads, or wondering why their ad did not have a capital letter at the beginning of the sentence.
What about full stops, commas, punctuation marks and apostrophes? Are they only important in resumes and legal documents? Studies reveal that 75 per cent of human resources officials believe it is worse for applicants to make a spelling error, or use bad grammar, in their application than to show up late for an interview. ]But be mindful that in an advertisement, we are not teaching an English class - just merely trying to sell a product or service.
Does it ever bother you when someone says: “Between you and I?” And does your lip twitch ever so slightly when someone ‘uses an apostrophe to make a plural’? Does a tiny part of your soul shrink when a slogan is corrected? Or what about hash tags such as: Leggo my Eggo — (Let go of my Eggo); Got Milk? — (Do you have milk?); I’m lovin’ it — I am loving it; and We got that – (We have that). These are catchy phrases that could easily be considered improper English to many.
So here’s the big question: Is there such a thing as “perfect English” in advertising? Think about this: Everyone makes mistakes. But should the use of bad grammar in an ad be considered a blunder? I am not implying that the rules of grammar are to be completely ignored, as there will always be grammatical errors that might make an ad seem pointless. Nonetheless, one of the most significant goals in advertising is to figure out how to sell a bucket of ice to a pack of eskimos.
There are times when it is perfectly acceptable to turn, influence, tweak or even break the normal rules of grammar to place the ‘wow’ factor out in front. Ad writers do this all the time, as their goal is to get consumers’ attention by word play and, yes, unconventional grammar.
Let’s take this a little further: How about an ad using a tourist scripting: “Like Wow, the Bahamas is the boom… I’m jus lovin’ it”. Would you regard this sentence as grammatically incorrect? If your answer is yes, permit me to weaken that view. A marketing or design representative’s overall goal should always be to use what they have to get what they want. What should they use and want? Their task is to use the most effective, stimulating and creative method or system possible to emotionally evoke the mind of their customer, as studies have shown that ads have only three seconds to grab the attention.
Designers should create for their audience only, not for their English teacher. Truly, grammar has as much importance in advertising as good penmanship has in graffiti. Meaning, in advertising, it is not really necessary to use good sentence structure, proper punctuation or follow all the rules learnt in school. I have experienced the burden of explaining this philosophy repeatedly to English majors/proofers, which was similar to having a root canal without sedation. Pointless.
After several unsuccessful attempts, I humbly threw my hat in, since I understood that the scholars were blameless and only contributed what they were taught. Is this the real world? You may or may not agree, but when the time comes to write a particular ad piece that requires a full grasp of the English language, a copy writer will have their day.
So, let’s put the cheese on the cracker and agree that there are hardly any rewards without risk. Some may say playing it safe is boring. But the absence of a comma, period or the use of a catchy slogan, slang, dialect or waffle should not confuse a message. A play on words or humour can be very effective if we concentrate on creative word techniques. So, until we meet again, fill your life with memories rather than regrets. Enjoy life and stay on top of your game.
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ABOUT COLUMNIST: Ms Bastian is a professionally trained graphic designer/marketing coordinator with qualifications of M.Sc., B.Sc., A.Sc. She has trained at institutions such as: Miami Lakes Technical Centre, Success Training College, College of the Bahamas, Nova Southeastern University, Learning Tree International, Langevine International and Synergy Bahamas.