This is ridiculous and deserves a post of its own.

Some discussion was had over the response Eric Jay posted on my last entry:

I’ve got several friends (and two immediate family members) who work in advertising and marketing. Most of them went to well-respected universities, and several hold degrees in both fine arts and business.

According to the two I spoke with about this entry, using words outside of their grammatically correct context is part of their art form. They each showed me examples from their own portfolios, pointing out words or punctuation that would have been different if they were writing a letter or article. In each case, there was an explanation of how the “incorrect” usage fit the project at hand.

They suspected whoever designed the LNT sign knows the grammatical difference between “every day” and “everyday,” and made the choice to use the “wrong” word in an effort to utilize both meanings in just 3 words: (1) You can find low prices here every day. (2) At LNT, low prices are an everyday occurrence.

They also both interpreted the Staples piece to be an imperative first, and a clever play on the phrase “picture perfect” second.

This blows my mind.

I’m not mad at Eric Jay — he’s one of my favorite readers. My beef, as usual, is with the marketing people. If this is true, what gives them the right to change the rules of grammar, to fill their signs with errors for the sake of subliminal advertising?

It would be different if it were a homophone with two very different meanings. If an ad for a fragrance said, “Good knight,” and had a sexy knight in shining armor (preferably shirtless and glistening with sweat, and curly hair, kind of wild, and just a bit of stubble, and amazing, well-developed arms….I’m sorry….grammar?), that would be more than okay.

We, grammarians of the world, have too much trying to drag us down — apathy toward the English language, internet-speak, poor grammar education, a quickly evolving language that works against us more often than for us. Now we have something else: marketing executives trying to play educator.




Thanks, Eric Jay, for bringing my attention to this lunacy. (As for the gym teachers’ college comment….yeah, not the best taste. It was a line from Salute Your Shorts. I guess the humor didn’t quite transfer.)



17 responses to “This is ridiculous and deserves a post of its own.

  1. ROTFL
    “This is wrong. It’s a mistake.”
    “No, it was done on purpose. It has, um, two meanings. Yeah. And it’s artistic. You just don’t get it. Yeah, that’s the ticket!”

  2. Thanks for sharing my comments with your readers in this post, but your editing makes it seem as if I agree with you. That’s not the case, at least on this particular issue.

    Contrary to your assertion that someone has to “give [advertisers] the right” to take artistic license with language, we all have the right ignore any rules of grammar that we choose. On the same note, we all have the right to reject or ignore messages that aren’t presented according to the rules. As you point out, we have “a quickly evolving language.” It’s merely your opinion that there’s anything wrong with that, and that everyone has a moral responsibility to stop it.

    You go on to demand that people in marketing and advertising stop trying to play educator. That seems rather disingenuous, as it comes immediately after you berate them for not doing their part to teach proper grammar to the public. Fact is, they have no intention of educating anyone, and have no responsibility to do so. That’s simply not their job.

    As far as the suggestion by some that they take their use of artistic license lightly, my sister explained how every word, space, and punctuation mark is analyzed and discussed over and over. This happens on everything from price tags, to billboards, to TV commercials. She recounted with frustration several weeks of discussion over a punctuation mark on a sign. There were multiple meetings with copy writers, artists, outside consultants, and of course, the client, over one comma! The final decision was based on what was believed to be most effective, not what was grammatically correct.

    I think another friend said it best:

    “We know the rules of grammar (ok, I admit it, sometimes we have to look them up). We think it’s important that everyone is taught proper language, but that’s not our job! Not everyone uses the same rules to communicate. It’s our job to reach consumers in the most efficient way we know how. It’s also our job to be creative, grab attention, and stand out among a sea of competition. Sometimes that means not always following the rules. Some people won’t like it, but they’re in the minority. We’re in the business of reaching many, not few.”

  3. I have a hard time believing we’re in the minority. Just about everyone I know is bothered by grammar and spelling errors (whether they’re intentional or not) in advertising.

    These precious little attempts to get my attention drive me nuts. I freely admit that they do get my attention. I think to myself – ‘This product is being sold to me either by morons or by people who think that the majority of the public is too stupid to recognize misspellings and bad grammar. I’m not supporting them by buying it.’

    Would a marketing firm hire a copy writer, editor, artist, or anyone else, if their portfolios came with cover letters, resumes, and letters of recommendation filled with such creative uses of grammar and spelling? Would they get it – that the applicant’s mistakes weren’t mistakes but carefully thought out misuses of the language applied with the intention of rendering their resumes more effective?

    Or would they just think – ‘This person doesn’t care enough to proofread.’?

  4. Stupidity – it worked for Winston cigarettes!

    *TV slogan is widely criticized for grammar error… gets added to Merriam-Webster dictionary… is named 8th best slogan of the 20th century!*

  5. I don’t know, Eric. When you say, “On the same note, we all have the right to reject or ignore messages that aren’t presented according to the rules,” does that mean that using correct grammar doesn’t matter at all?

    They may not be consciously deciding to be educators, but that’s what ends up happening. Whether it happens to kids or even adults who aren’t as up on grammar, they take these signs to be correct. After all, why would an advertiser make something incorrect?

    I do believe that advertisers spend a ton of time on tiny things, but I don’t see why they can refuse to follow the rules.

    Take Dirty Sexy Money (ooh, it just started 4 minutes ago!). The logo is like this:


    The design gives a separation between “Dirty” and “Sexy” that would require a comma if it were in written English.

    However, I see absolutely no good coming out of changing “every day” to “everyday.”

    The more we cater to the people who have no knowledge of grammar (I really wanted to write “the dumb” or “the illiterate,” but that’s just inappropriate), the quicker we’re going to lose our language. 19th century literature will be reading like Shakespeare a generation or two in the future.

  6. Joe, Freelance Copy

    I have worked as an advertising copywriter for the last 14 years and agree that sometimes I bend the rules for a desired effect.

    If the word(s) in question were anything but “every day/everyday,” then I’d cut the guy some slack. But every day/everyday is butchered all the time. Plus, the hardcore retail context makes me think it was sloppy work by an uncaring production team.

    Apple’s “Think Different” is an example of advertising breaking grammar for a deliberate effect.

    Next, can we tackle less vs. fewer?

    Love the blog.

  7. I got the “Salute Your Shorts” reference and loved it.

  8. Frankly, I wouldn’t ever buy the product being advertised in such a sign. How could I trust the object’s quality when I can’t even trust the company’s grammar and I’m being manipulated? That’s an abusive relationship between producer and consumer.

    Furthermore, bad grammar has gone on so long that most people are not going to pick up, even subconsciously, on all the different meanings of the error because they don’t realize there are other meanings.
    The only people who fully comprehend what’s happening on that sign are the ones being aggravated by it.

    So after all that, it boils right back down to the promotion of improper English, which is just ignorant and unnecessary.

  9. You may be an amateur grammarian, but you seem professionally good at ignoring what people eloquently and clearly explain to you. Eric has made very good points, and had already explained pretty much all of the things you asked in your followup “rebuttal”. (Yep, that’s right–I put the period outside of the quotes–British style.)

    Interestingly, this same argument is being had in every major language in the world. There’s always some faction of alarmists who (without any documentation I’ve yet seen) equate language change to the downfall of society.

    The English of today may very well be unintelligible to people 400 years from now regardless of what you do or any of us does. I think that is extremely unlikely, for at least a couple of reasons:

    (1) advances in information technologies. English is better-documented now than it ever has been. We have better access to tools like dictionaries and thesauruses (no, not thesauri) via the internet, not to mention the general collection of human knowledge and opinion everywhere else. Run into a word you don’t know? You can find a (note the indefinite article there) definition within seconds. Why would things be any different in the future?

    (2) The emergence of English as the global language. English probably has the least to worry about of all the major languages of the world. There may be fewer native speakers than some other languages, but in huge portions of the world, people study English as a second language on a scale unlike any other language. Along with the trend toward globalization, this is leading to a paradoxical increase in both the diversity and standardization of English. Diversity because more regional varieties appear (and the rest of the world is more likely to become aware of them–e.g. Singlish or Indian English). Standardization because the longstanding major varieties that have previously been quite separate begin to merge on a greater level (namely, British English and American English–through TV, movies, the internet, celebrity culture, etc. etc. etc., we know more of each other’s regional or social varieties than in the past).

    Also, I don’t recall Shakespeare being difficult to understand because of grammar. It’s not like he used some super-high standard of language that has devolved to what we use now. Rather, he coined words left and right, many of which we still use today. Even if our distant future progeny don’t understand our lingo, do you really think we don’t understand Shakespeare because folks between then and now weren’t diligent enough in preventing change? It is, to borrow from the title of your post, ridiculous.

  10. Rikker, I think I explained myself well three different times, but I can understand why you feel the way you do.

    Personally, I think that Joe makes a great point — Apple’s “Think Different” campaign changes grammar, but it works — it’s crisp, it’s different, and it puts an idea in your head.

    But changing “every day” to “everyday” doesn’t do that. That’s what I think, and it seems that readers here are divided on the issue.

    When I made the comparison to Shakespeare, I in no way meant that to mean that Shakespeare is difficult to understand because of the grammar. I meant that in the future, perhaps a sentence like “u and I will b @ the restaurant l8r” will be considered correct, and the way we speak now will be seen as comprehensible but archaic.

    People today are already bending to the whims of “internet speak” — when I did my second NPR interview on the Oxford English Dictionary’s removal of hyphens from thousands of words, I didn’t object to that, but I objected to their reasoning: because people on the internet type faster, simpler words.

    If we go by that reasoning, why is it even important to have grammar rules at all?

    Also, Sawxfan, I am THRILLED that you got the reference. My sister created the Facebook group “I Still Love Bobby Budnick.”

  11. Apple’s “Think Different” was also probably a challenge to IBM’s long-standing “Think” slogan, which reinforces the iconoclastic nature of “Think Different”.


  12. Kate, in your last post, you ask an important question: “[W]hy is it even important to have grammar rules at all?” The discussion also touches on the need for grammar education.
    The rules provide a framework for written and spoken communication; a mutually acknowledged protocol that allows us to understand one another. These rules exist to enhance our ability to be understood. We teach these rules so the student will have the skills necessary to communicate their ideas, and so they can understand the ideas of others.
    Communication is more art than science. There are rules for all art forms. The beginning student in any art starts by learning the rules whether drawing perspective or playing the violin. In time, the student comes to see where the rules form limits on expression, and he experiments with breaking them. Picasso and Dali understood the rules of art better than most painters, and developed new art forms by breaking the established rules. Beethoven and the Beatles understood the rules of music; they broke them and created new musical forms. Shakespeare bent and broke the rules of language all over the place, often deliberately using incorrect words or word forms or non-standard sentence structures. “Full of vexation come I, with complaint Against my child, my daughter Hermia,” speaks Egeus in the first act of A Midsummer Nights Dream. Or Bottom’s line in the second act:
    “I grant you, friends, if that you should fright the
    ladies out of their wits, they would have no more
    discretion but to hang us: but I will aggravate my
    voice so that I will roar you as gently as any
    sucking dove; I will roar you an ’twere any

    The copy-writer at Apple understood the rule he was breaking when he came up with “Think Different.” This worked artistically. The copy-writer who confused “everyday” with “every day” may or may not have understood the rule, but the effect didn’t work, at least in your opinion. Is this an unpardonable sin? Or is it simply a difference of artistic opinion?

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