How to Write Effective Copy: Is Strict Grammar Important?

We all receive them: advertisements containing various grammatical missteps and “oopsies” to put it kindly. Of course, there's the persistent use of your instead of the contraction you're, and the constant confusion of there, their and they're. But it isn't a rare occasion when you experience my favorite blunder: using “quotations” in the “wrong context.”
These errors may be entertaining, but they aren’t selling anything. Grammatical mistakes make you look less than competent. They don’t instill trust in the prospect (one of the main goals of advertising) and it is embarrassing for the company. So why are these issues so prevalent in advertising (especially small business advertising)?
From my experience with thousands of postcard campaigns in hundreds of industries, I can tell you the number one reason: business owners are too busy. If left to write their own copy (words on the advertisement), it doesn’t get the attention it deserves and the results are not pretty. That’s why I hired a full-time employee to handle the proofreading of every campaign we produce.
Another way these slip-ups end up in advertising promo is the advertiser insists on having them there! Crazy, I know — but we see it every day.
“Now why would anyone do that?” you ask.
Some people fall in love with their copy and don’t want to change it; others are convinced it IS correct. However, in SOME cases, there is good reason to keep bad grammar in your advertising.
“But wait… you just said bad grammar doesn’t sell,” you remind me.
Ah, but there are two kinds of bad grammar: flat-out incorrect grammar, and grey-area grammar. The flat-out wrong kind is what I discussed above. It should never be used — under any circumstances. Ever. But grey-area grammar is different.
Consider this example: You get a postcard advertising a new chiropractor in your area. The card tells you they have an adjustment technique that works better than traditional methods and they have done tests to prove it. The back of the card reads, “The data are in, and our method wins!”
This sounds strange, but is it correct? Actually, yes. Data comes from Latin and the singular of it is “datum,” so “data are” is the correct verb agreement.
The whole point of advertising is to communicate with your audience. There is no point being the “grammar police” if it causes your prospects to miss your message or worse — think you are less than competent.
Many Americans think “data are” sounds incorrect. Using the singular verb “is” (as in “The data is in!”) is commonly accepted in modern English. In fact, if the card reads “The data are in,” it may appear incorrect to a majority of recipients — even though it is correct!
Certain situations are grammar grey-areas, and need to be treated as such. If you are not sure of the correct usage of a word or phrase, look it up. It is worth your time and effort to produce the clearest, most effective copy possible in your advertisements. But don’t use grey areas as an excuse. “Your going to ‘love’ our prices!” will always be flat out wrong. Grey areas exist, but they are rare.
The best way to ensure your copy is clear and professional is to hire a professional copywriter and proofreader. Many marketing firms, including PostcardMania, employ these professionals full-time.
Remember, clear communication is more important than being the grammar police. But if a professional proofreader tells you something is inarguably wrong — give them the benefit of the doubt!

Joy Gendusa

Joy Gendusa founded PostcardMania in 1998 with a phone, computer and no capital investment. Since then, she has grown the company into one of the nation's most effective direct mail marketing firms, specializing in postcard marketing for small to large-sized businesses. Over the years, she expanded to offer mailing list acquisition, website development, email marketing–all while continuing to educate clients with free marketing advice.

She has been named Tampa Bay CEO of the Year, Business Woman of the Year in Tampa Bay and has been featured on MSNBC's "Your Business." PostcardMania is an Inc. 500 and 5000 company and has won awards for creativity, best business practices and leadership. Find Joy on Google+

If you would like to interview Joy or book her as a speaker, please email joyspeak@postcardmania.com or call 1-800-628-1804 ext. 281.

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