Crime Does Pay

Be more dog.

Eat fresh.

Think different.

All strong and memorable campaigns. All crimes against grammar.

Throughout school, we’re taught how we should and shouldn’t write, but very often, we see advertisers and marketers taking the law into their own hands.

“I don’t know the rules of grammar. If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language.”

David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy’s words ring just as true today, perhaps even more so with the emergence of digital and social channels. Character limits and shorter attention spans could be the culprit. We skim, we scan, and most importantly, we want to have a conversation with brands.

And perfect grammar won’t matter if no one wants to read it.

You want to appeal to the masses, not your English teacher. So, we’ve lined up some of the usual grammatical suspects and had a look at how you can bend the rules to create impact in communications.

Exhibit A: The bad boys of sentences

Image with words 'and' 'or' and 'but' to highlight 3 popularly discussed words in grammar.

Words like and, but and or have earned themselves a bit of a reputation for showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time – the start of a sentence. This rule is something we were taught at school, a myth that never seems to go away.

Maybe they’re just misunderstood.

Sometimes, these conjunctions can create a smoother transition between sentences and help move your narrative onwards. Sometimes, they just sound right – less robotic and more conversational. Either way, these writing misdemeanours will always be a point of contention. But when you’re trying to get a point across and have very little time to do it, conjunctions can be a real asset in improving clarity and flow.

Exhibit B: Good comma, bad comma

It’s easy to get bogged down by punctuation and it can really rub some people up the wrong way.

But the danger is that law abiding copy can end up as just boring copy.

Every mark has its personal qualms. Colons look clever, but one thing they don’t look is great on a billboard – they’d be much more at home in the terms and conditions section. Then there’s the full stop. It’s tiny, but the perfect accomplice to a brand’s tone of voice. And just like stand up, it’s all about timing.

Of course, proper punctuation has its place, but it’s equally important to recognise when it becomes a distraction. If it’s stealing the spotlight on an otherwise clean poster, give it the boot.

But bear in mind, one dot can entirely change the meaning of the message. Volkswagen summed it up in this campaign for their emergency brake feature.

On the other hand, these Tesco print ads are littered with conjunctions, fractured sentences and even made-up words – the ultimate crime. There are also several full stops in one simple poster. But without them, you wouldn’t have the same punchiness or comedic value. These perceived wrongdoings are the very things that make the communications familiar, entertaining and effective.

Exhibit C: Dirty tactics

3 captioned images - 'Think Differently', 'I'm Lovin' It' and 'Got Milk?' - all popular slogans used in marketing by brands.

By bending the rules, brands are creating their own unique standout and building ownership. You can’t just spring bad grammar on customers. It needs to be part of an appropriate campaign or the brand voice as a whole.

Apple love a one-word sentence. Illustrating the power of succinctness. It’s a stylistic choice that would likely get some disapproval from the grammar police, but Apple don’t have time for your commas. They’re too busy dealing with the queues of customers flocking for their products.

innocent hate capital letters. They don’t use them in their brand name and they don’t use them in their ads. It’s nothing to do with the product, but everything to do with the brand. And it works. They’re conversational, approachable and offbeat. As a result, they’re widely appealing, despite the questionable grammar.

innocent smoothie advert to highlight when it's ok not to follow the grammar rules - innocent by nature.

Lots of successful brands flout the old grammar conventions, and they’re successful because they do it with consideration. It’s the tone that will jump off a page or screen and connect with your audience, not a masterfully placed comma.

When done right, it can be great, but one poorly judged move can quickly lead to sloppiness. Everyone loves a bit of flair, but not when it overshadows the message.

It’s up to your copywriter to make sure your communication doesn’t sway to far from the straight and narrow.

Keep in mind, there’s a time and a place to go rogue.

Grammar in advertising isn’t an open and shut case.

Image showing punctuation and grammar examples.

It’s important to know the rules and respect them, but it’s just as important to know the loopholes and the right moments to use them to your advantage.

So next time you come up against the grammar police for your typed transgressions, you might not have to come clean. Don’t let them rob you of your creative panache. It’s okay to let the conventions slide when you’re going to improve the understanding of a message, and ultimately promote your product and service.

That’s the goal after all.

Looking to get creative with your copywriting? Contact us today to see how we can help!

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