There are people who care a lot about grammar. There are people who do not care about grammar at all. Like oil and water, these two sorts of people should not mix.
Exhibit A – This relationship appears unlikely to last:
Robert Klara, in an article for AdWeek discussing the increasing illiteracy of marketing has said: “Grammar—It’s the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit.” That’s a rather blunt way of putting it, but one understands the point.
Grammar is intended to aid communication. Good communication helps sell things. That is why good grammar is a tool of the trade for advertisers, or should be.
- Volvo XC60 Campaign
Every now and then, on the daily commute down Kings Way towards the Melbourne CBD, a large, prominent billboard has recently caught the eye, then led to a furrowed brow, then a confused expression, and eventually a photograph.
Hence this photo of the current Volvo XC60 advertisement:
Hard to see, I know. So let me explain. First, there is an image of children bickering. Daughter says: “Mum, he hit me!” followed by the somewhat predictable response from the boy of “She hit me first!“.
These children are located in between a few random words, with vertical lines delineating them, such as “Lane”, “Departure”, and “Warning”.
All one can say about the overall impression is: What. Does. This. Mean.
Some amused friends, possibly closer to the target market than me, queried over a few glasses of rosé whether parents were likely to be incentivized to buy a Volvo if reminded of mood killers such as brattish children fighting inside said vehicle. That is of course, if the depicted children are inside a Volvo, or any car actually. Rather than say, squashed between some vertical lines and random words.
Secondly, and for the grammar pedants, there is the tagline at the base of the billboard: “The Volvo XC60 makes parenting look easy.” Wow. That is one hell of an admission. The vehicle is so hard / complicated / awful that even parenting these painful children is easy by comparison?
The task of the advertising grammar pedant was simple. Eliminate one word – ‘look’ – to deliver the message that “The Volvo XC60 makes parenting easy”.
However, whoever came up with the Volvo advertisement really likes the word ‘look’. Imagine what would happen if it was taken out here. That’s right. No ambiguity:
Companies spend a lot of money on these campaigns. In the lead up to launch, it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of storyboards, focus groups and power point presentations. If enough people enthuse: “This Ad is Fantastic”, it is easy and understandable to get caught up in the hype.
However, given the expense of a billboard which basically makes no sense, one suspects there was likely one person in the decision making room who thought: “I just don’t get it…”. If so, feel free to speak up next time! You will be helping the company you serve.
The hashtag #VolvoParents is not quite trending. Three people have replied to the above Volvo tweet. ‘Tony’ who has five children under 10 (definitely in the target market!) was, in turn, asked by a member of Volvo’s social media team whether he had booked his test drive yet. The response? “Not yet. The new XC90 is a bit of a pipe dream.”
- Mitsubishi Starion
Included not just to make the folks at Volvo feel better, this example from the ‘vintage’ archives still manages to raise a chuckle.
According to Wikipedia, Mitsubishi says “Starion” is a contraction of “Star of Orion” — and refers to both a star and the mythical horse, Arion. We say, “nice try Mitsubishi!”.
Struggles by Japanese engineers to pronounce the word ‘stallion’ are said to be the true source of the name. Evidence in support of this includes:
- The Mitsubishi Colt and Mitsubishi Eclipse featured equine names (the Eclipse was named after the champion race horse), and a ‘Stallion’ is essentially just the father or older sibling of a ‘Colt’.
- Automotive journalist Paul Niedermeyer noted that an early Japanese television commercial for the Starion closed with a logo of a stallion’s head with the word “Starion” below it. Paul’s wonderful article going through the evidence, with a shot of the early logo, is here.
- Real estate agent signs
One sign gained recent media attention, less because of the mistakes and more because of the Grammar Nazi who decided to correct them.
According to analysis conducted by Redfin, a United States’ real-estate brokerage, and Grammarly, an online proofreading application (see Wall Street Journal report here), typos and missing commas can slow down sales and drag down prices. Spelling errors and other grammatical red flags in 106,850 luxury listings in 52 metro areas in 2013 were examined. The results? Listings priced at $1 million and up showed that “perfect” listings—written in full sentences without spelling or grammatical errors—sold three days faster and were 10% more likely to sell for more than their list price than listings overall.
On the flip side, listings riddled with technical errors—misspellings, incorrect homonyms, incomplete sentences, among others—logged the most median days on the market before selling and had the lowest percentage of homes that sold over list price.
- Hugo Boss: Spare a thought for the actor
For some actors, even if the advertisement is glamorous and they are handsomely paid, it is not all upside. This is because the script can be laughable and awful.
Andrew Falkous in The Guardian has written a pithy, amusing piece about a recent Hugo Boss television advertisement which some of us may remember.
It was not just the ridiculous nature of lines Gerard Butler was required to deliver, such as: “I don’t believe in less” (than what?); “A man will never run” or “Stay noble, I say”, it was also the way he had to deliver them. There was plenty of slow motion action, and a voice redolent with meaning, when really the actor was saying nothing much at all.
- Apple: “Think different”
Grammar pedants likely did a collective *face palm* when they first saw the famous Apple slogan in 1997 (yes, that long ago!). Plaintively they longed for the missing ‘ly’.
Gone forever, some have speculated the missing adverb was Apple’s way of getting its customers to think differently … er … different.
Apple’s grammar has been described as “atrocious” and “cunning”: see John Hudson in The Atlantic. For example:
“If Steve Jobs is talking about an iPod, an iPhone or an iPad, he will say “iPhone does this” or “iPad does that”, instead of “the iPhone does this” and “the iPhone does that.” You would use the former version to refer to a person, and the latter to an object.”
Others have suggested one should take on board lessons from the “notorious” Apple slogan, in that bad grammar spells likely marketing success.
For grammar pedants around the world, disaster looms. It will be impossible to tell whether grammatical mistakes are deliberate or a clever marketing tool!
Therefore could it be that the Volvo XC60 advertisement is, in fact, a Machiavellian attempt to get us talking about the ad and car? If so, the strategy has succeeded.