08 November 2006

Ain't No Other Ad But You

Today, while listening to Christina Aguilera, I was thrown into a philosophical quandary.

I was on the subway, bopping along to "Ain't No Other Man," when I read a wall of those new T-Mobile ads. You know, the ones hawking some feature where you get free calls to your top five friends. Or something. They're not terribly effective. They may not even be for T-Mobile. Do you know the ones I'm talking about?

Anyway, there are several versions of the ads, all of them posing questions whose answers are supposed to reveal the people most worthy of being in your Top 5. (I guess this club is even more exclusive than the "Top 8" on your MySpace page.) "Who gets your inside jokes?" "Who loves you?" That sort of thing.

But there's one poster that asks... "Who do you share your secrets with?"

And it makes me want to break something. I cannot stand national advertising with grammatical errors. I mean, I can understand it when the owners of the local restaurant post a flier advertising "Breakfast, Lunch, and Diner." Hell, I make about thirty language-based mistakes an hour. But T-Mobile? A company that hires ad agencies to scour their work? They should get it right.

Do ad folks think we're stupid, or do they just think that correct speech isn't important? Either way, it irks me.

Sure, maybe it sounds more like everyday conversation to make usage mistakes, but shouldn't these companies feel embarassed? Shouldn't they know that it makes them seem ignorant to say "Who do you share your secrets with" instead of "With whom do you share your secrets?" Again, a mistake in a national ad is not like a mistake in a casual conversation. The slip implies that lots of professionals either missed an error or were too lazy to do anything about it.

Other recent examples: There's this poster for Ironman watches that features the line, "Are you a man or a mouse?". However, "man" has been crossed out and "Ironman" has been written above it. So now the question awkwardly asks, "Are you a Ironman or a mouse?" Um, I'm an irritated man, thank you. Your slogan is cute, but do better.

OH! And the worst offenders are the damn colleges that advertise on the subway and have posters full of mistakes. I know colleges that need to advertise on the F Train are probably not high in the "U.S. News" rankings, but still... it's a college. There's got to be an English teacher around somewhere.

Most egregious offender? New York's School of Visual Arts. They have these rocking posters created in the style of the various arts they teach, but they all ask, "How bad do you want to be good?" I want to be good badly enough that I will enroll myself in a school with more concern for standards, thank you.


And... yes. Yes. I'm aware that many people would tell me to chill right out and get back to celebrating Rumsfeld's resignation. But pet peeves aren't rational.

Nor are they consistent. Because as I was clutching my pearls over the T-Mobile incident, I realized I was listening to a song called "Ain't No Other Man." That's a fake word and a double negative. However, when a pop star uses bad grammar, I don't twitch a muscle.

Artistic license? I guess that's what I'd call it. For artists, it's fine. But no matter how clever they are, I'm never going to think of advertisements as art. They're always manipulative tools, trying to mimic my authentic point of view in a way that will convince me to trust whatever company is doing the advertising. Ads are tricks to make me buy Pumas.

For an ad to feign artistic license is a mockery of art.

Obviously, there are plenty of people who don't get miffed by grammar mistakes, or the ads wouldn't exist. But hear me, Ironman, T-Mobile, and New York College of Visual Arts! You have lost at least one customer or student!

And there ain't no gettin' around it.



At 10:07 AM, Anonymous Holtzwoman said...

Mark! Yes! Fellow grammarian! Nothing gets me going quite like the "a ironman" kind of mistake. It actually makes me cringe. Cringe, I say! At any rate, you've found a kindred spirit.

At 2:40 PM, Anonymous Brooke said...

I'm right there with you. We once had a Greek Week shirt made that said "If YOUR going to be Greek, why not be a Goddess?" YOUR????!!!!!
I refused to wear the shirt. Unforgivable - thank god I graduated that year.

At 3:06 PM, Blogger Mark Blankenship said...

I can't tell you how happy it makes me that I'm not alone in this.

Brooke, I wouldn't have worn that shirt, either.

At 7:42 PM, Anonymous Adam said...

Mark, not to be a contrarian but I've read recently that it's ok to end sentences with prepositions. Here's a link:


And I am tempted to go look at my Strunk and White. Please hold... [ goes to look at Strunk and White]...

On pg. 77 it says, "Years ago, students were warned not to end a sentence with a preposition; time, of course, has softened that rigid decree. Not only is the preposition acceptable at the end, sometimes it is more effective in that spot than anywhere else."

So I'm not sure I agree about the T-Mobile ad but I was amused by the story nonetheless.

Adam Strunk

At 10:02 PM, Anonymous AdamH said...

Please tell me you've read "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" from cover to cover? Yes? Very good.

I think it's because you're a journalist that it twinges you more than other people. I'm a technical writer, and I'm cursed with finding mistakes in everything I read.

At 10:12 PM, Blogger Mark Blankenship said...

Adam H--I haven't read "Eats Shoots and Leave," but I know I should.

Adam--I agree about the preposition, though I myself try to avoid it. The thing that irks me about that sentence is the use of "who" instead of "whom."

At 3:27 PM, Anonymous kalle said...

Or what about the inexplicable change of meaning of some words? Like "graphic". Since when did it start to mean "violent"? It's not very uncommon for news sites to warn readers for "graphic images". As if someone expected them to be audible...

Also, at least around here, "exclusive" is the new word for luxurious or fancy. But if a moisturising cream is advertised to the general public, just how exclusive a product is it? And what's so cool about excluding people anyway? (and just how does the said cream do it?) Not as maddening as "graphic", but not very neat, either.


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