In my latest column for the Visual Thesaurus, published today, I look at grammar infractions in advertising: Deliberate or careless? Effective or annoying?
The two examples I look at both come from car ads. Here’s Jon Hamm introducing the Mercedes C-Class Coupe: “More power. More style. More technology. Less doors.”
Impressive visuals, but less doors? Not fewer?
In a more playful mood, here’s Honda cheerfully employing singular they:
“To each their own”?
Access to the column is restricted to VT subscribers; here’s an excerpt:
As someone who's spent my professional life in and around advertising, I can assure you that the writers responsible for these ads are in command of the English language, are fully aware of the rules, and broke them intentionally. Ad writers do this all the time: their goal, after all, is to make you stop and pay attention, and word play, word invention, and — yes — unconventional grammar are time-honored ways of accomplishing that end. (For other examples, see my columns on the Hanes Lay-Flat Collar and on “Rethink Possible” and “Think Different.”)
Copywriters also count on the Pareto principle, sometimes called the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of people who encounter the “bad” grammar either won't recognize it as “bad” or will recognize it and not care. (They may even see it as a positive attribute.) Only 20 percent will object strongly enough to raise a fuss (the Honda ads exhibit “tragically bad grammar”; the Mercedes campaign represents “language malpractice”), and that fuss will simply serve to draw more attention to the campaign.
But let’s take this a little further. You and I may indeed have been taught that the rules about less/fewer and singular/plural are inviolable. (I know I was.) But it turns out they aren’t. Not only that: the rule-breakers have a lot of history on their side.
Read the rest of “‘Bad’ Grammar in Ads: License to Annoy”? Here’s your soundtrack: