Messaging first. Grammar second.
When it comes to choosing between proper grammar and impactful messaging, there can only be one winner. And it ain’t the semi-colon.
Last week, I received an email from my father. The subject line – ‘HAVE YOU SEEN THIS?’ – could mean one of two things. Either a rogue intern had glued down his caps lock, or someone was guilty of breaking the Holy Rules of Grammar. Turns out it was the latter.
Grammar schmammar The events app, YPlan, was the offending company. To my father, the full stop at the end of their recent billboard ad was no less than a monument to the death of English grammar. As a copywriter, my cantankerous father expected me to be up in arms, pitchfork in hand. But, as I calmly informed him, this advert doesn’t bother me in the slightest. In fact, I love it.
Messaging over everything Whether it’s an elaborate ‘brand experience’, a tear-jerking Christmas ad or a witty billboard slogan, advertising is all about the dark art of persuasion. This means form will always be secondary to the function, which is the message.
Here, YPlan’s message is clear: their offer speaks for itself. Now, would this message be communicated more persuasively if grammar rules were strictly followed and the full stop became a question mark? I don’t think so. On the contrary, the full stop makes the sentence a statement rather than a question. It lends the words greater conviction and leaves us with a clear, direct message, backed up by the form it’s presented in.
No mistakes were made In other words, the grammatical inaccuracy wasn’t an oversight. Had it stopped the message making sense, it would have failed in its aim. But it didn’t. The target audience (of which I am a part) understood exactly what the message was. It performed its function and achieved its aim. In fact, it even left me with a small smile at the bold concept and execution.
Know your audience Of course, my father’s outrage was not completely unreasonable. And it also highlights the importance of knowing your audience. For him – and other aged crones – the grammatical inaccuracy of the form served as a barrier to the persuasiveness of the message.
Thankfully for YPlan, my technophobic dad couldn’t be further from their target audience. Other companies need to be more careful though. For example, for law firms, banks or any outfit dealing in sensitive information, this kind of inaccuracy could lead to a loss of confidence in the brand. The customer could rightfully ask: ‘if they can’t master details like punctuation, what else are they slacking on?’
Don’t be a grammar nerd We copywriters are sticklers for punctuation. But some things are more important than a correctly used semi-colon. And messaging is one of those things. So, next time you’re faced with a grammatical dilemma, ask yourself the following question: will breaking the rules make my message more persuasive to my target audience? If the answer is yes, what are you waiting for? Go for it.