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June 8, 2017

When Is Bad Grammar Acceptable

For any seasoned logophile, the thought of intentionally using bad grammar is abhorrent enough to haunt their nightmares. Particularly in the copywriting profession, impeccable grammar and spelling is considered to be paramount. In recent years, the focus on grammar and spelling in digital content has mounted due to the Google Panda update, which was introduced in 2011. This update was one that endeavoured to prioritise high quality content to improve user experience and penalise content that contains grammatical, spelling and stylistic errors. However, there have been some arguments concerning how seriously these errors might affect a website’s rank on SERPs. Would one simple spelling mistake doom your page to the uncharted depths of Google? While a clear answer to this question has not yet been disclosed in full by Google webmasters, they did share a general response on their YouTube channel that managed to clear up some discrepancies. In this video, Google’s Matt Cutts states:

“It’s not one of the over 200 different signals that we use to assess the quality of a page, but I think it would be fair to think about using it as a signal…in our experience, the reputable pages do tend to have better spelling and better grammar.”

Overall, it seems that rather than searching for absolutely error free content, Google sees good grammar as an indicator of high quality content. This allows copywriters a certain amount of freedom to add some personality to their content. However, has bad grammar ever been acceptable in commercial copy? Or, to pose a more interesting question, has bad grammar ever managed to improve commercial copy?

For Effect

In the right context, bad grammar can actually make copy better. One example of this may be slogans, where taking certain liberties with grammar can make quotes and phrases more catchy and memorable. There are a lot of big brands profiting off of bad grammar:

Apple:                                    Think Different                 =             Think differently
Milk:                                      Got milk?                             =             Do you have milk?
McDonald’s:                       I’m Lovin’ It                        =             I’m loving it
Rightmove:                       Find your happy               =             Find your happiness

When improper grammar makes an appearance in slogans and taglines, it’s often used as a means to make the text tighter and read faster. Slogans need to be punchy and poignant; the shorter slogans are, the more impactful they are. This means that it might be necessary every now and then to cut off the fat and leave the meat i.e. keep only what’s important and get rid of everything else. This includes punctuation, conjunctions, suffixes, even the occasional letter off of the end of a word. While you might have a few complaints over your grammar, these are the slogans that seem to stick in our head more than any others.

microphoneBrand Voice

Stylising copy can enhance experiences for the reader and make a brand stand apart from their competitors if done well. Consider Elvis Presley’s song ‘You ain’t nothing but a hound dog’. Elvis was a rebellious, laid back cool-cat and it would be strange to hear him sing ‘You are nothing but a hound dog’ or even ‘I consider your characteristics to resemble those belonging to the canine family’. Many of his songs had grammatical idiosyncrasies because his persona was born from a poor country boy turned rock star, and that is what most of his fans loved about him. He had a voice and style that was unique in the music world and made him stand out.

In a commercial context, however, this idea is executed with a bit more cunning. There has been some speculation that a lot of Apple’s success is the result of bad grammar. Steve Jobs often used to refer to his products as though they were persons. When describing one of his products, he would say ‘iPad does this’ as opposed to ‘the iPad does this’. This subtle and diabolical use of bad grammar set Apple apart from its competitors and established a unique brand voice. He spoke about Apple’s products as though they were autonomous and intelligent enough to be real people, even if they were just wires and circuits encased in plastic. It gave the brand a more futuristic edge and paved the way for the version of Apple that we know today.

The Audience

If you have a young audience, or are trying to appeal to a broad demographic with your copy, the best copywriting style is one that allows easy extraction of information and is as close to natural, organic speech as possible. The difficulty in this is that most of us don’t always use grammar correctly in every day conversation. There is a difference between spoken and written grammar that has developed over the years. In a modern context, some instances of using correct grammar may sound overly formal or unnecessarily elongate sentences when we are trying to communicate a point efficiently. For example, you might ask your colleague ‘Who should I address this email to?’ as opposed to the grammatically correct ‘To whom should I address this email?’.

In some instances, you run the risk of alienating an audience by being overly strict with your use of grammar, so for the sake of making your writing comfortable to read and appealing, it’s acceptable to forgo one or two grammatical rules depending on the circumstances. For example, natural speech patterns are incredibly difficult to replicate through the written word, especially subtle implications such as irony or perhaps phonetic interpretations i.e. accents. Unconventional grammar, in which case, can be used as a form of rhetoric as long as your meaning is clear and your copy reads comfortably.

lawVerdict

Breaking a few rules every now and then is a great way to mix up the advertising and marketing world, but the trick is that you need to be aware of what the rules are before you decide to break them and which you should be breaking. From an SEO perspective, there are definite dos and don’ts when it comes to the quality of your copy. Typos? Never. Grammatical errors that negate the readers’ interpretation? No way! But, from a marketing and advertising perspective, taking a few liberties with grammar might just be the edge you need to put together a memorable campaign.

 

If you’re looking to create a memorable campaign, then our digital marketing team here at Absolute Digital Media can help. Get in touch with the experts today!

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Author:

Alicia Hempsted

Alicia is a lover of knowledge and trivia, and her writing easily demonstrates her fascination with information. Her varied background in creative and analytical writing within a variety of industries naturally led her into copywriting, where she is free to research to her heart’s content. You’ll often find her content chocked full of facts and tied together with a fair dose of sharp wit and humour. Alicia’s time that isn’t spent persistently writing and researching often involves her being buried in a good sci-fi novel, watching retro horror flicks, or perfecting her illustration skills on Photoshop.


Email a.hempsted@absolutedigitalmedia.com

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