I’ve got a note and everything! by @carlpeter

You put publishing power in the hands of the people; you’re going to get a lot of crap pushed into your face. I don’t mean pictures of plates of dinner, or adorable kittens being adorable. I mean ill-considered thoughts expressed badly in the form of social media posts and, dare I say, blogs. Not this one, obviously. No, the empowerment of Joe Public as a writer is, on the whole, a bad thing. Writing is not the same as blurting your thoughts into words and vomiting them onto a screen. That’s just instant gratification – knee jerk citizen journalism in reaction to the affairs of the day. If you treat it as such as a consumer, it’s OK. It’s not worth getting excited about. It’s not writing. It’s just an angry dog with no teeth barking in the depths of your computer or gadget. You can zone it out.

No, writing is an art and a profession. That’s why journalists are trained. That’s why English is a subject you can’t abandon at school. That’s why there are whole battalions of editors, sub-editors and proof-readers taking writers’ writing and making it right for the intended purpose. These people are dedicated and skilled professionals, trained and often qualified to make poor writing good. Often it’s like polishing turds*. I’m labouring the point to make the point that underneath most of what we think of as ‘official’ communications, there are people with special skills that have honed and crafted that information and the way it is written.

That’s why grammatical mistakes in television advertisements have me frothing at the mouth. There is never a justification for it. Never. Even the liberal education policies of past decades, where the expression of the idea was deemed to be more important than the execution, can justify highly-paid advertising agencies getting spelling and grammar wrong.

Let’s take a TV advertisement. Firstly, it’s not a cheap undertaking. Television being what it is, even with the proliferation of small commercial channels, airtime is hideously expensive. Advertising on television is not to be undertaken lightly. How does it work? A company decides some aspect of its business, usually a product, needs to be brought to the public’s attention. The company will have a good idea about what it wants to say and to whom. This information will be relayed to an advertising or PR agency. They will consider the information received and make some suggestions. Their ‘creatives’ will draw up a few ideas, maybe a storyboard. These will go back and to and be discussed at meetings until the final concept is agreed. This is then put into action by professionals – scriptwriters, editors, a director … Highly paid professionals in a production company will be engaged to take the agreed ideas and craft them into a television advertisement. Sequences will be filmed or animated, voice-overs will be recorded, editors and post-production professionals will polish and snip the advertisement into a rough edit and the agency and the client will view it, all congratulating each other on their artistry and vision. The same professionals will finish the edit and post-production and deliver the final advertisement, ready to be broadcast.

So how the feck do mistakes get onscreen when so many people have been a part of the process? Some of it is down to general ignorance. If you ever read the small print at the foot of television ads, you are quite likely to see ‘T&C’s’ instead of ‘T&Cs’. Another popular classic is ‘1980’s’. I know, I know – you were off the week they did apostrophes. You had a note and everything. But the king so far this year has been for air “freshners”. Yes, “freshners”. I thought it might have been a brand name, but it isn’t. I know it isn’t, because now it has been corrected.

So it’s not just me, then.

Here’s one from Samsung, broadcast in New Zealand

(*you can polish lion turds, apparently. They’re quite hard.)



Peter Hough is a copywriter and all-round content guy at carlpeterhough.com

Follow his tweets on @carlpeter