Is sloppy writing tarnishing your image? Is it killing your brand?
It seems that almost everywhere I look these days sloppy writing smacks me in the face. BAM! There it is again. Rearing its ugly head.
No, I’m not just talking about informal emails, personal status updates and text messages. I’m talking about mass communications – often from some of Australia’s leading brands. Myer, Coles and Monash University – just to name a few! (But we’ll get to those in a moment.)
Rarely does a day go by that I don’t spot a mistake on a website, a billboard, a print ad, a news story or a blogpost. Crikey, I even see and hear them on national television and radio commercials.
Apostrophe confusion, spelling errors and lazy typos are enough to make a pedant like me instantly distrust the source. I wouldn’t employ someone with a resume filled with blunders. So why would I partner with someone or buy from a company that is so obviously slapdash – or potentially inarticulate?
Am I being too harsh? I don’t think so.
Before you crown me ‘Little Miss Grammar Pants 2014’, I’m fairly sure I’m not alone here.
The I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar Facebook page has more than 4,400 members. It seems that sharing grammatical gaffes that appear in the public domain is a fun, time-wasting hobby for many.
Now you may not care (or even notice) when your friends make mistakes in their emails or on their social media pages. But chances are, you judge organisations and business professionals a lot more harshly.
Poor grammar undermines credibility. It indicates poor attention to detail, negligence and lack of professionalism. Pure and simple.
Let’s look at some examples
Here are some embarrassing examples from three of Australia’s most familiar brands.
Myer – in store advertising
In December 2011, Myer unveiled a Boxing Day campaign with the slogan: ‘Early bird get’s the right size’. That superfluous apostrophe appeared everywhere – including a seven-storey banner in the foyer of Myer’s flagship store in Bourke St.
Coles – TV campaign
During the 2012 London Olympics, Coles aired this sentence on a series of TV productions: ‘Coles are proud to support our Olympians in London’.
What’s the problem here? Well, Coles is a collective noun and should therefore be treated with a singular voice. ‘Coles is…’ rather than ‘Coles are…’
Monash University – outdoor advertising
In 2013 Monash published this question on promotional bus and tram shelters across the state: ‘What’s more brilliant then a Monash degree?’
Of course ‘then’ should have been ‘than’ – resulting in ridicule all over the world. ‘What’s better than a Monash degree? A proof-reader,’ joked one Buzzfeed author.
Just for a bit of fun, let’s look at another recent faux pas – this time from a familiar US brand.
SodaStream – TV commercial
In the SodaStream Super Bowl ad, Scarlett Johansson promises a soda with ‘Less sugar, less bottles.’ But ‘Less sugar. Fewer bottles.’ is what she should have said.
See point number 5 on an earlier blogpost to understand the difference between fewer and less.
And here are some more blunders I have recently come across, made by less well-known brands. Brands that are trying to build awareness and – in vain – a trustworthy reputation.
See if you can spot the errors yourself this time. (HINT: Each example has somehow abused, confused or misused the apostrophe.)
Are grammatical errors really fatal for big brands?(Those last two print advertisements both appeared in the respected Marketing Magazine – written and produced by supposed communications professionals, for Pete’s sake!)
Have I stopped shopping at Myer or Coles because of my grammatical principles? Have I ceased my long-term business relationship with Monash, its students and its staff?
Of course not. But I do believe accurate writing shows that you’re a trusted brand. Splashing your logo next to a grammatical or spelling blunder is more than just embarrassing. It’s expensive – sending your panic-stricken marketing and
social media teams into a tailspin. It’s not true that ‘all PR is good PR’.
So what about the small guys?
I believe that small businesses have the most to lose when it comes to sloppy writing. Because their websites are often their only marketing channel – and their only window to the world – they are especially vulnerable. And sadly, too many small business owners simply don’t give their website the love and attention it deserves.
I have said many times before that website content must be clear and compelling. But it must also be correct.
Businesses with websites that are littered with errors risk their reputation and turn people away every day. Who knows what that could be costing them in lost sales and missed opportunities?
Although online errors can be quickly corrected when spotted, most visitors won’t bother to let you know – leaving the error to linger for all of eternity. They simply click away. Never to return.
What are the lessons in all this?
If you struggle with spelling and grammar, you’re clearly not alone. But don’t accept it as an unavoidable personal weakness that you have to live with. Why take the chance? Your professional credibility and brand image is on the line.
Here are some tips that could save you.
1. Hire a professional writer
You may think you can’t afford to hire a professional writer. But I would ask: can you afford not to?
I think this internet meme says it perfectly.
2. Employ proofreading strategies. And don’t rely on the spellcheck.
I am not suggesting you should never use a spellcheck – just remember that it is far from foolproof. It can’t pick up correctly spelled words that are incorrectly used. The Monash billboard is the perfect example of this.
See point number 4 in an earlier blogpost to learn some useful proofreading strategies.
3. Learn important grammatical rules
While there are some grammar rules that are more difficult to get your head around, it’s worth investing the time to learn some of the more common mistakes that people make.
4. Fix errors immediately when pointed out. And be gracious.
Take action immediately. And don’t be defensive. Myer admirably tweeted:
‘Thanks for all your feedback on our printing error – we’re getting this fixed at the moment… and we’re glad you’re all so passionate about our great new Stocktake Sale creative!