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Tip 22 of 30: Grammar

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OK, here’s a tricky subject: grammar.

People get so hot under the collar about it.

A lovely quote from Jack Lynch, Irish politician:

‘Arguments over grammar and style are often as fierce as those over IBM versus Mac,
and as fruitless as Coke versus Pepsi and boxers over briefs.’

The debates I’ve had over the years. Heated ones, too.

I remember one client, Reuters, in London. My second agency – just three years into my career.

Arguing about a full stop.

I wanted it. They didn’t.

At the end of the meeting, the client said: ‘So I’ll be firing the agency over this’.

The journey back from the client to the agency was terrifying.

Know what? By the time I got back, there was a bottle of champagne and an apology on my desk.

Scary moment there.

So I know how uptight people get about grammar.

A wonderful quote from David Ogilvy:

‘I don’t know the rules of grammar.
If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something,
it seems to me you should use their language. The language they use every day.’

Quite.

I have a 22-year-old daughter. And I send her perfectly worded texts.

‘I’m in Melbourne this week, back Friday. Hope work is going well.
Catch up for yum cha on Saturday? Love you lots. Dad. Xxxx’

I get one letter back.

‘K’

She’ll be your customer, your colleague, your client in years to come.

How’re you going to deal with her grammar?

Language is changing. Always has.

So, what do we do?

Well, as Mr Ogilvy said, we try and write in the language our audience understand.

Which may well be ‘K’. Or an emoji.

We copywriters are always on the side of the reader.

So, for me, copywriting is not about grammar.

It’s about communicating. Succinctly. In a way that’s kind to the reader. Doesn’t make them work hard.

Sure: no spelling mistakes (that’ll destroy trust between you and the reader). Fix those.

But grammar?

I’ll end with a quote. from Abbe Diaz:

‘It never ceases to amaze me how prosaic, pedestrian, unimaginative people can
persistently pontificate about classical grammatical structure as though it’s f**king rocket science.
These must be the same people who hate Picasso, because he
couldn’t keep the paint inside the lines and the colors never matched the numbers.’

Ouch.

One last thing to remember. When deciding on the language and grammar, make sure you’re true to the brand.

Do I expect a university to use an emoji? No.

Even though they have a young audience, I expect them to write grammatically-correctly. That’s their brand, their product.

Do I expect a bank to use an emoji? No. But it doesn’t stop them …

Sure. Grammar may well be a tricky subject.

But, for a copywriter, it’s a ‘piano played by ear‘.

 

This tip is based on my 30 Tips in 40 Minutes webinar.

Feel free to download a version of the slides and watch a video of the one-hour webinar.

Image source: Pixabay

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Jon Maxim
jon@themaxim.com

Jon is a multi-award winning copywriter. For over 30 years, he’s helped clients – large and small – develop engaging concepts, content and copy. For 25 of those years, he’s been teaching people how to do it themselves. His courses on copywriting, ideation and presentation skills are highly sought-after and highly effective. Jon lives in Sydney, Australia: but is often found on a plane, heading to where he’s most needed.