I was asked recently what super power I would choose if I could have one. Because I couldn’t choose invisibility (someone else already had that one), I said I would want to be able to instantly fix everyone’s grammar in order to rid the world of bad and unclear communications. Sure, I’m a word nerd—maybe that could be my super hero name. So it’s no wonder I get annoyed when I see marketing and advertising copy that appears to be written by uninspired third graders.
Everyone thinks they know how to write, but doing it well requires practice and dedication just like any other endeavor. Marketing departments all too frequently seem to think that a business degree automatically confers “writer” status on its holders. Witness this pitch for a technology conference that landed in my Inbox last week:
[ConferenceName] is just over a month away!
Have you registered yet? You won’t want to miss out on one of the industry’s most diverse and informative technology conferences of the year. With over 180+ in 5 different tracks from speakers that are the best and brightest in their fields, [ConferenceName] has something for everyone. Use can use our promo code, [withheld to protect the innocent], to save off your registration price too! So, why wait? If you haven’t yet, join us today. If you have, see you in September! [link withheld to protect the innocent]
This whole brief paragraph is written poorly; really, it’s not an effective pitch for the event. Rather than tell us anything specific, it sticks with generalities and clichés (“speakers that are the best and brightest”). I’ve never studied marketing, but I would hope they teach that dynamic, specific writing captures attention more surely than clichés.
In addition to the general failure of the pitch, the paragraph has several errors in grammar or usage, which should have been caught by basic proofreading. Here are a couple of my favorite blunders:
- “With over 180+ in 5 different tracks”—First, you should never use a number with a plus symbol (+) together with the word over. It’s redundant. (Some style guides would tell you that it shouldn’t even be over but rather more than.) The bigger issue here is that they’ve omitted the word sessions so the sentence is basically gibberish—or at best, it leaves the reader stumbling to figure out what they’re trying to say.
- “Use can use our promo code”—Huh? Does anybody proofread this stuff? What is this, an appeal from a New York mobster? “You’se can use our special code. If ya don’t, we gonna whack ya.”
- The conference name—I’ve withheld the name of the conference because I don’t think these type of bad writing examples are unique to this company. However, in this particular advertisement, there was a spelling error (actually, no space between the words) in the conference name itself each time it was used. It looks to me as if the marketing team doesn’t really know what they’re marketing.
I’m left with a poor impression of this company and its event. If they can’t confidently sell the event, why would I have any confidence in the content they plan to present at the event? If this is in any way indicative of the level of marketing for similar events, it’s no wonder conferences are struggling to get attendance numbers. I feel the same way when I visit a website where the layout is clunky and the writing is full of errors: instant lack of confidence in the message.
Writing matters. Yes, everyone should know how to write, but knowing how to write doesn’t make someone a writer.
Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins