Advertisers attract attention with grammatical errors

Advertising is a favourite target for grammar aficionados, but there’s often a strategic reason for sloppy or incorrect-sounding grammar in ads.

Controversial grammar still gets consumers talking

Scarlett Johansson in SodaStream's Super Bowl ad. (supplied by SodaStream)

Advertising is a favourite target for grammar aficionados, but there's often a strategic reason for sloppy or incorrect-sounding grammar in ads.

A SodaStream ad from this year's Super Bowl, starring Scarlett Johansson, irritated grammarians with its last line. 

Equally vexing are supermarket express lane signs that say "10 items or less." After all, things that can be counted — like SodaStream bottles and items — require the word "fewer," while mass nouns that can't be counted, like sugar, can use "less."

After grammarians reminded an American Whole Foods store of this rule, it changed its signs to "10 items or fewer."

But the most spectacular use of controversial grammar appeared in this 1997 ad for Apple.

The commercial ends with "Apple. Think Different." This sent elementary school language teachers through the roof. But not only was Apple correct, it was on strategy.

If you thought about the line in a less conventional way — which is exactly what it was asking you to do — you realized that the adjective wasn't being used to modify the verb. Instead, the line was asking you to think about differentness, just as the line "Think Big" asks you to think about bigness.

By sounding incorrect, Apple shocked us into paying attention, while reinforcing its image for innovation and revolution

Ford ads are currently signed off with "Ford. Go Further." To strict grammarians, this line is as troubling as Apple's. However, it's not nearly as effective.

Only strict grammarians are aware that "farther" is for measurable distance while "further" is for metaphorical distance. So if the line refers to the extra kilometres in the life of a car, "Go Further" is incorrect.

But since it's also a metaphor for trying harder and innovating, it's correct. And it's doubly correct considering how modern usage interchanges further and farther.

However, as a slogan it's not particularly effective because without the widely noticed grammar controversy of the Apple ad, it just doesn't get our attention.

It makes you wonder why Subaru would bother copying it. Rest assured that major marketers rarely make unintended grammar mistakes.

Sometimes they deliberately use incorrect grammar — like the SodaStream example —to sound more casual and concise. And other times, like Apple, they play with grammar to get our attention and further their strategic goals.