accuracy in advertising

I understand that there are people who have little grasp of the grammar, syntax and spelling of their own language, but should they really be allowed to work in jobs that require them to write for the public?

Texts published on web pages are often faulty – many are written by badly paid hack writers with a deadline to meet – but it’s fairly simple to go back and correct them.

Slogans and texts for major advertising campaigns, on the other hand, are worked on by teams of professionals and they pass through the hands of many people before being approved. And yet we get things like this:

Advertising slogan: "It's time oil companies get behind the development of renewable energy"

A badly phrased advert such as the one shown above (which appeared on the BBC site this morning) does nothing for me except distract me from the message. It ought to be either

It’s time for oil companies to get behind the development of renewable energy


It’s time oil companies got behind the development of renewable energy

How can I possibly agree with people who don’t know basic English? Perhaps it’s time we taught grammar – or Latin – in schools again.

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

8 thoughts on “accuracy in advertising”

  1. This reminds me of my personal bête noire, which I hear daily on the BBC. For example:

    A. “It is important that we are in agreement.” – i.e., we are in agreement, and the fact that we are in agreement is important.

    B. “It is important that we be in agreement.” – i.e., we ought to be in agreement, because it’s important, but we may not be.

    Nine times out of ten, you’ll hear A said when B is obviously meant. If the bald subjunctive is too scary and élitist, then “It is important that we should be in agreement”, a variant of B, is also perfectly clear, while “It is important that we agree” is ambiguous but likely to be understood in context. Grrr.


    1. I was going to have a full blown rant about subjunctiphobia – as opposed to subjunctivitis which seems to be a phase of learning Spanish when the learner insists on using subjunctives all the time because he can – but decided to leave that for another day.

      Although I agree with you, though, I see a world of difference between a person making a mistake when speaking spontaneously and a whole team of people committing a mistake in writing. Of course, it’s the fact they speak badly that means they don’t recognise the written errors.


      1. BBC announcers, newsreaders and reporters are paid (partly by me) to speak better than what us proles does.

        I expect advertisers to be illiterate, the same way I expect elected politicians, tabloid journalists and game-show hosts to use language badly in various ways; it’s a requirement of the jobs they do. But the BBC ought to be different, oughtn’t it?


  2. I don’t see anything ungrammatical, or even non-standard, about the sentence in the ad. In my dialect (Pittsburgh English) a clause in either present or past tense can follow “it’s time”. In some cases present tense is much better for me. Compare these two as excuses for leaving a party:

    (1a) It’s time we went.
    (1b) It’s time we go.

    (1a) sounds very strange to me, and (1b) sounds fine. Why do you think this is ungrammatical?


    1. How interesting! In my (standard UK) English “it’s time we went” or “It’s time we were going” are both unexeptionable, while “it’s time we go” is quite simply wrong.

      In Spanish, it would most naturally be, “Es hora de irnos”, which is a structure that can correspond to a subjunctive in English. I think “es hora de que nos vayamos” is correct, but it’s so much more complex that I’d stick to the former. (Sometimes I find it useful to refer to my Spanish – learned as an adult – to unravel my (native) English grammar.)

      In all my years listening to English from around the globe (including a couple of years spent living in California), I can’t recall ever having come across the form that uses the present tense as the advert does, and I suppose, since the BBC is a UK-based organisation, I’d expect something that was at least recognisable as acceptable to a British English speaker.

      Thanks for commenting.


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