I’ve written about what I call CorporateSpeak in other blogs. I may resurrect that discussion when the mood arises, but what I’m annoyed about is a similar concept that has to do with marketing campaigns that use dumb, stilted tag lines. This may not seem like an earth-shattering dilemma (it’s not), but it keeps popping up and it’s really getting on my nerves! I’ll explain:
Now, when I was in elementary school, the common example used to describe the use of poor grammar in advertising was the old Winston cigarette tag line, “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should.” Of course, as a kid, I could imagine a bunch of octogenarian professors in their black robes – they always have to wear the robes – having apoplectic fits over the use of the word like rather than the proper as. Also, as a kid, I summarily dismissed this as I knew what they meant and who cares about cigarette ads anyway? And some how, some way, that type of thinking has gotten us to where we are today. But I digress (which, considering the title for my little rant factory here, I should do, but I really should get back to the subject at hand.)
There has always been an element in advertising and business where incorrect English or spelling is used to attract attention. When I was growing up, the Winn-Dixie grocery chain was joined at the hip by another name, Kwik-Chek. The store brand soda pop was named Chek and had a little check mark in with the phonetic spelling. In my kid-mind, I understood what they were doing and why they were doing it, but it all came off to me as a cheap and tawdry stunt because they spelled the word incorrectly. This sounds like the genesis of a Grammar Nazi, huh? Nevertheless, that feeling of disdain I had for that brand and for that store, by extension, is something I haven’t been able to shake to this day and I really don’t care to do so.
So where is this all going? Without doing any real research into the matter, the first campaign I recall that used the “bad grammar” theme was Apple: Think Different. I don’t know if it can truly be called a theme because I don’t know that the agency responsible for that actually knows that it’s wrong! Regardless, the correct phrase is Think Differently. The explanation, for the grammarians and non-believers out there: “different” is an adjective, it has to have a word to modify and the verb think isn’t it. However, if you change it’s form to “differently” then you have a modifier – an adverb – that works with the verb. Anyway, I always felt sorry for old Albert Einstein as he looked miserable being on Apple’s signage with this obvious grammatical mistake – and I don’t recall anyone pointing out the error. I am a lifelong Apple user and to see what I consider to be the greatest computer products available advertised with such stupidity was depressing. I bought their products, regardless, because the ads weren’t going to influence my decision-making anyway.
Probably because of the success of the Apple campaign, this bad grammar tagline garbage hasn’t stopped. I have a sneaking suspicion that the subsequent campaigns were designed to deliberately use bad grammar because Apple’s success has been so phenomenal (never mind the actual products or any of that real-world stuff). So in the midst of the manifestation of the whole insipid “re-” marketing meme – rethink, reboot, reimagine, etc. – we have AT&T stepping up to the plate of desperately dumb ideas and producing Rethink Possible. I singularly hate this more than the others I will mention because, as far as I’m concerned, AT&T is a dogshit company. But the phrase is so stilted and clunky and doesn’t really SAY anything! If you want it to be correct, then it has to say Rethink What’s Possible or something to that effect. I know that’s what they are trying to say, but it’s just so damn ham-handed; it’s not clever, it’s trying too hard to be clever.
So, not to be outdone, my constant nemesis, the former Sci-Fi Channel, Syfy (which is a whole diatribe in itself) comes up with another example of this “bad grammar” theme by attempting a call-to-action to redefine the meaning of an adjective: Imagine Greater. Again, it doesn’t say anything, but we’re supposed to waste time doing the mental gymnastics of imagining what “greater” could actually be? Perhaps, we’re supposed to heighten the level of our imagining, as if that is some kind of quantifiable state. Stupid and hyperbolic. How about some shows that aren’t an intellectual embarrassment? How about change the name back to the Sci-Fi Channel and concentrate on some honest-to-goodness science fiction? That would be “greater”!
Ahem… back to my topic.
So, as a subscriber to Time-Warner (whether I like it or not), I now am at the mercy of their endless ads and the vapid tagline: Enjoy Better. I’ll tell you what’s not “better” and that is the grasping attempt to follow in the footsteps of these other national ad campaigns. This phrase has all the failings of the Syfy and AT&T taglines and is, in some ways, worse because it’s such an obvious rip-off of the concept they used. And while we’re talking about “better”, I just discovered a new campaign by U.S. Cellular: Hello Better. People are singing in the ads and it’s just awful. Again, bad idea that is an obvious copycat.
With the whole “perception is reality” lie they tell themselves, have they convinced themselves there are no original ideas, so they aren’t even going to try? I’ve worked around sales and marketing all my professional life and I understand that it’s a hard thing to win an account from companies who put perhaps more faith in advertising than is warranted, but that’s no excuse – ever – for the dreck I’m talking about here. Here’s a concept for all the nimrods in charge of these ad campaigns: Expect Better. I do and it’s a proper phrase you would really find in English.
It’s bad enough to have to listen to Neanderthals in suits rattle on about “innovation” and “rethinking” and “repurposing”, but for the money agencies get paid, I’d appreciate an effort to, at least, act as if somebody in ad land knows how to use the English language! These campaigns – and, I cringe to think there will be more – are not smart nor are they clever. I’m sorry, but somebody had to say it.