Branding By Bad Grammar

In my recent post on the return of scented consumer products, I made a snotty remark about ungrammatical label copy on a bottle of Ajax dish liquid. The label said:

Powerful Clean, Exhilarating Scent.™

I can't tell you how many times I've stared open-mouthed at that sentence, trying to make sense it.

There's clearly something wrong with this sentence, but it's not obvious what. Is there a comma missing? Should "powerful" be an adverb ("powerfully clean") rather than an adjective? More importantly, can you really trademark something written so badly?

This, readers, is nothing more than another branding technique. Its purpose is to capture and hold our attention. And it works exceptionally well.

Do you remember this slogan?

Toyota: Everyday

Or how about this one?

Think Different.

Also, if you listen really carefully, you should be able to hear a soft popping noise. That's the sound of grammar nazis' heads, exploding in the distance.

While some might consider it a generous service to humanity to dream up slogans that make grammar nazis' heads explode, this technique works differently--and in a far less generous way--on everyday non-grammar-nazi people. To a normal person, these words merely seem "off" somehow, and it causes our eyes to linger over the words for a just few moments longer than they normally would.

We're constantly surrounded by words, images, ad copy, merchandise and all sorts of commercial noise. It's too much for our minds to pay attention to it all, so we tune most of it out. But this subtle (and deeply irritating, at least to me) effect grabs a few extra milliseconds of our cognitive space before our brains move on to the next thing.

That's how a consumer products company calls attention to their dish liquid, despite the fact that it sits among a dozen essentially identical products. That's how you put a tiny little idea virus in peoples' heads so they'll remember your product, whether they want to or not.

And that's how you get consumers to buy.

Finally, readers, allow me to bestow upon you a new, fail-proof excuse you can use to get out of washing dishes:

"I can't do the dishes tonight honey, my inner grammar nazi is acting up. You wouldn't want my head to explode, would you?"

Read Next: 41 Ways You Can Help the Environment From Your Kitchen

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Melissa said...

There's a Coors billboard I see every day (not "everyday" - HA) on my way to work that says "All-Out Blitz On Refreshment" and it bugs me to no end. It either needs to say blitz OF refreshment or blitz ON thirst or some such thing. Irritating.

I can't say the bad grammar worked, though. I had to look up which company it was.

Unfortunately, I also don't think it was intentional. I don't think most of these are. I really believe people care that little (or know that little) about grammar these days. It pains me, especially considering technical editing is part of my job, but what can you do?

chacha1 said...

I am a grammar Nazi and proud of it. I don't even read most news posts because they are so clearly written by by-the-word contractors, and not by actual journalists (or, heaven forbid, English majors) who understand syntax (and the use of a dictionary). If a story is bylined AP or Reuters it *might* be intelligible.