They’re everywhere—on posters, signs, in flyers, menus, and even in radio commercials.
I just don’t get it. Advertising is an investment. It costs a significant amount of money to advertise your company or product, but making every effort to ensure that the content is 100% correct doesn’t seem to be all that important to a lot of businesses. Even big-budget companies aren’t immune. I’ve heard mispronunciations in radio commercials that have set my hair on end. I’ve also seen glitzy ads with shockingly sloppy punctuation.
There’s nothing like poorly written advertising copy to deflate a company’s credibility. After all, if they haven’t taken the time to ensure that the messaging that represents their brand is 100% correct, who’s to say that their service won’t be as shoddy? Or that they haven’t cut corners with their products too?
You might think your ad piece looks marvelous, but I guarantee that 75% of the time, a fresh (and well-trained) pair of eyes will find something that needs to be corrected. A good proofreader/editor will spot something you’ve missed—either because you’ve read through it too many times already, or because you aren’t equipped with the right training. In the end, the extra attention to detail will pay for itself by weighing the scales of credibility in your favour.
Here’s a micro list of my peeves (since my full list would probably run too many pages for you to read in one sitting):
Listen up you merchandising people who like to write your own ad copy. LCD is an acronym for Liquid Crystal Display. So unless your intention is to write: Liquid Crystal Display display, please do skip the extra “display.”
With that said, there are far too many techies and merchandising people writing about product and sending it to print without first passing it by an editing professional. Unfortunately, that’s why it’s now standard to see units of measurement written with no spacing between the number and the unit: 32GB, 20kg, 5ms, 8MP, and so on. Would you write 32gigabyte with no space between 32 and gigabyte? Well then why do you think it’s ok to eliminate the space just because it’s been abbreviated? It’s not ok. It should have been corrected the first time out by an editor.
Adding “st,” “nd,” “rd” or “th”
after a numeric day when the year follows, e.g. October 25th, 2011. What purpose does the “th” serve, other than to add unnecessary clutter? Eliminate it.
Apostrophe train wrecks.
Example: The store’s are all open on October 25th, 2011. ARRGGHH! If you don’t realize that apostrophes: (1) show the possessive use of a noun (John’s car), (2) are used in place of missing letters in contractions (I’m/I am), and (3) are never used with nouns that are already possessive (its, theirs, yours, etc.), then please, please, please hire an editor.
at the end of every typed sentence. Yes, back in the day when we used typewriters this practice was drilled into our heads. But guess what? It’s an antiquated rule that no longer applies in our advanced era of perfectly spaced type fonts. Really, it’s beyond distracting to see so many gratuitous spaces throughout a page of text. Only one space after a period. Always.
Save 10% off doodads.
I see this so often that if I had nothing better to do, I would spend all of my time sending out letters offering 10% off my proofreading/editing services. Attention advertisers: When you take 25% off the price of your doodads, your customers will save 25% on said doodads.
Again, it’s either 25% off or Save 25% on. Take it off. Save it on. Now, repeat this over and over again until it sticks and the next poster you produce will not make me want to rip it off your wall and run over it with my car.
See store for details.
I’m sure this qualifier was originally written without much thought by some lawyer who was in a hurry to get the details out of the way so he could cram more billable hours into his day. Does this mean that if I drive by the store, I’ll see the details written on the front windows? That would sure save me the bother of having to stop, park my car, and enter the store to ASK for more details, or ASK in-store for more details, or ASK an employee for more details. I see a person. I ask them for details. Now if, in fact, you have written the details on the front windows, you can ignore my rant.
Certain radio commercials
have tried to sell me “joo-lery” instead of “jew-el-ry.” I have no desire to shop at your store because after hearing that terrible mispronunciation, I believe that your advertising people are either slawppy or dum. And that makes me wonder if perhaps your joo-lery buyers are too. Before you drop gazousands of dollars to advertise your product in a commercial, don’t you think it’s worth the extra effort to make sure that the talent you’ve hired pronounces it correctly?
Select versus selected.
“Select” means “special; chosen because of its outstanding qualities.” For example, if you have slashed the prices on an assortment of run-of-the-mill sofas that you want to bounce from your inventory, then you would advertise a sale on “selected sofas,” not “select sofas,” unless of course the sofas on sale are truly superior to every other sofa in your store and aren’t simply stock that you’re trying to move out.
“Select” means the best; “selected” means chosen by you. If your chain of stores is offering a huge sale on backscratchers this week and you tell me that they’re only available at “select” stores, you’re telling me that some of your stores are superior in quality to your other stores, and that the backscratchers are only available at those few superior-quality stores. If that’s the case, I’m only interested in shopping at your “select” stores, so please don’t direct me to any of your lesser-quality locations.
Serial exclamation marks.
We’re having a sale! On everything in the store! You won’t want to miss it! See you there! Not on your life!!!
An asterisk explosion.
The minute I see asterisks, I feel skeptical. “Aha. There is a catch.” Most of the time, the statement qualifying the claim is perfectly visible at the end of the copy block, and I would have seen it whether or not an asterisk was placed prominently beside the price. In cases like these, customer suspicion is piqued for no good reason (most likely caused by the paranoia of a few corporate honchos who believe they’ll be sued if an asterisk doesn’t follow anything and everything). Not smart when you’re spending countless dollars in an effort to not only persuade consumers to buy your products, but also to build trust with them so they’ll want to become regular customers.
Here’s a very easy rule of thumb to remember: Do not use an asterisk when your qualifying information appears in the same general vicinity as your claim. If your qualifying information is located in a distant, murky section of the page, or there are several items shown together and the qualifier only applies to one item, or the qualifier has to be placed on a separate page, then you should use an asterisk to let people know that a “by the way” exists somewhere else in the ad. Otherwise, simply place your qualifier in brackets underneath your copy. Not only will your butt be covered, you’ll avoid using a psychological marker that screams, “Strings are SO attached to this offer.”
An aside: And then there are the many instances where a proofreader/editor is on the payroll, but certain people who are in more of a hurry to get a job out the door than to make sure it’s correct will “forget” to run it by the proofreader. Always a Big Mistake.
Now… the flip side of the coin:
Oh, the joys of being a writer/editor in corporate advertising:
1. “Oh c’mon… Anybody can write! No sweat.” And then, once they realize that it’s not the picnic they’d imagined, the poor writer is dragged in to clean up their crime-scene of a mess.
2. “Give this a quick proofread…but don’t make any changes because it has to go to press in an hour.” Sure thing. But are you going to let your shareholders in on the fact that the copy in the ad that they’ve spent a fortune on could have been far more appealing and properly punctuated had you scheduled enough time for a writer/editor to work on it?
Unfortunately, this is all too often how the process works: a marketing manager with the grammatical skills of a chimpanzee throws some copy together two days before a project has to go to press; it’s then circulated to everyone from the VP to the tech manager (an entire troop of chimpanzees) so they can add their two cents… and circulated again… and circulated again… with each person deciding each time that another word should be changed here or another sentence there. By the time it appears before the eyes of a proofreader (if at all), parts of it no longer even make any sense.
Here’s a cutting-edge idea: How much more powerful might the results be if you actually allowed the writer to write it and the editor to edit it in the first place?
3. I can’t count how many times people have changed my corrections back to the original errors because “well, we’ve seen it written that way before.” Oh hell then, it MUST be right! While we’re on a role, we should of just skipped hiring an editer in the 1st place!
And on and on and on. Before I begin to froth at the mouth, I’ll end this now with a sensible Latin quote:
Abusus non tollit usum
Misuse does not nullify proper use.