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Does Poor Grammar Affect a Business’s Bottom-Line?

No Parking

Memes about the use of poor grammar seem to be a staple of social media fodder, especially on social networking sites like Facebook. An even bigger trend in digital communications might be the calling out of people and brands for typos and poor grammar in status updates, blog posts, or marketing materials.

The Internet may be making a profession for the self-appointed grammar police, but such mistakes have always been seen in marketing and advertising. Remember the McDonald’s campaign that promoted its new “Anus Burger?”

A more recent example comes from the UK where Albert Gifford became a social media darling after calling out a syntax error in a product claim that appeared on a carton of Tesco orange juice; the slogan claimed the juice is “most tastiest.”

Does Poor Grammar Affect a Business’s Bottom Line?

While, as in the McDonald’s case above, grammar mistakes are embarrassing, do they negatively affect the bottom line of businesses? I’d have bet that most businesses (especially larger, popular brands like McDonald’s) would shrug off such mistakes and not be any worse for wear. Yet, it seems the social media spotlight might be shining a little stronger light on the issue than I thought.

Global Lingo polled UK residents, asking if their purchase decisions would be negatively affected if they noticed grammar errors in the brand’s online communications.  Of those surveyed, 59 percent reported that they would avoid doing business with a company that’s made such errors. Those errors and typos are abundant today across traditional and digital channels and are committed by individuals and businesses alike. Victoria’s Secret misused an apostrophe in its campaign that claimed, “You’ve never seen body’s like this!”  Barak Obama’s presidential election campaign goofed in an online banner ad that stated, “You’ve come along way.”  And let’s not forget the priceless claim by the Days Inn hotel chain, which offered “Free Wife” instead of “Free WiFi.”

Time to Loosen Grammar Rules?

Is the Internet to blame for declining attention to formal grammar? There’s a growing group of people calling for a loosening of traditional grammar rules. In fact, there has been a movement among English teachers to adopt descriptive or transformational grammar, which matches rules to the purpose of the user. They claim that such theories are more flexible, reflecting actual usage and self-expression over “correct” structures, which, in turn, provide more meaningful and honest communication in our modern world. (Ms. Petroni, my dictatorial high school English teacher, would not only disagree with this practice, she’d snap a ruler over my hand for even referencing it. My hand hurts just thinking about it.)

MisspellenheimThere’s no question that individuals are becoming more lax in their adherence to grammar rules and also their acceptance of poor use of grammar by others (well, except for the special task force assigned to monitor my every written word online (ahem…Alison King, Gini Dietrich, and Linda Bernstein)).  The sheer volume of informal conversations we have over social networks has a lot to do with this shift.

Texting has created an entirely new language where acronyms have transformed into official words. Twitter is single-handedly re-introducing the lost art of shorthand by forcing us to share ideas in fewer than 140 characters, again creating commonly accepted words that were once considered abbreviations.

Auto-correct, arguably the worst thing to happen to the use of proper grammar, has created a culture of acceptance for all forms of typographical errors. We know the author didn’t intend to write certain words when we see them out of place and we attribute the errors to the fast-paced nature of social discourse coupled with tiny keyboards and fat fingers. We’re OK with it. We laugh at it. We create memes to celebrate the hilarity of it all.

Sensei Debates

The Global Lingo survey suggests that businesses which follow pop culture trends and allow/accept improper grammar, or simply don’t proof their online communications well enough, will feel the consequences in their pocketbooks.  “The fact that such a high percentage wouldn’t trust a company with poor spelling or grammar just goes to show crucial it is that businesses make the most of every opportunity, especially in these tough economic times,” says Richard Michie, marketing and technology director at Global Lingo.

Having been taught proper grammar in the early 1980s – pre-Internet and digital short-hand – I’d consider the poor use of grammar in online communications a blemish on the brand, a sign that it’s not very professional. It’s why I employ an editor to review my posts, which are often riddled with typos due to my inability to proofread. However, would reading poor grammar or typos in a brand’s online communications stop me from purchasing a product from that company? Probably not.

I’m also curious if the next generation, weaned on digital short-hand, takes this issue as seriously as the grammar police who’ve made it a pastime – if not a living – to embarrass those who make such mistakes?

Where do you stand on this topic? The Global Lingo study suggests that almost 80% of Britons pay close attention to the quality of spelling and grammar used by businesses.  Is this purely a UK phenomenon? Does it translate into lost business or is a new acceptance of “Internet grammar” on the horizon?

Sam Fiorella
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego


Join the Conversation

ginidietrich 5pts

OK. Would a mistake like some you describe make me not want to do business with that organization? Of course not (oh crap...a grammatical error). The reason stuff like this drives me crazy is I have an English degree. I love the English language. I write out of passion. I'm very careful about the words I choose and I employ a large vocabulary. It makes me nuts to see laziness or pure ignorance of the proper usage of words. Even if the dictionary includes made-up words (selfie, gamification) and the AP Stylebook loosens its rules (over instead of more than is now acceptable), we still have to know the difference between their, they're, and there or your and you're. The examples you cite are not grammatical errors...they're lack of attention to detail errors. THAT is what makes me nuts.

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Danny Brown
Danny Brown 5pts

I grew up "old-school" like you, mate. Went to a prestigious private school in Edinburgh, scored in the top 3% ever of its students when it came to English. Continued my study of English at University of Edinburgh, majored with more high scores. Contrary to "tooting my horn" with this info, it's to give background to my thoughts on this.

I give brands kudos for meeting my needs as a customer - delivering a reliable product or service, backing that up with excellent support if something goes wrong, and recognizing my value as an existing customer versus classing me as second-rate to new customers.

Give me that kind of service over grammar snafus any day. 

Kathy_Salaman 5pts

Great article. The English language lives, therefore it adapts to suit its users. And (ooh, 'and' to begin a sentence!) so many of the existing grammar rules were created by 18th century scholars who wanted English - a fundamentally Germanic language - to fit in with rules of Latin. Some of the rules are simply begging to be broken!

Communication today is instant and more vibrant than it once was, and content that fits too neatly into traditional grammatical conventions can appear dull and contrived.

However, a recent survey of Cambridge business owners revealed that the majority (98%) have declined, or would decline, business services as a result of spelling, punctuation or grammar errors on company letters and emails. Even those companies that can afford editors and proofreaders for the big stuff are at the mercy of admin staff who may not be aware of the most basic errors. And so many leave school unaware of the basics, even those who have good English GCSEs.

As a tutor, I have noticed that school leavers from fee-paying schools have a distinct advantage over their state school peers, and business owners with an eye for detail are more likely to employ and retain staff who can write well. They know that the credibility of their company can be undermined by basic errors in everyday letters and emails.

I would argue that it is important to be aware of grammar conventions so one is armed with the relevant knowledge - whatever the context. (Of course, I would say this as my business exists for this purpose.) Grammar rules can (and should) be broken for creativity, but it helps to know what those rules are. Those who break them unwittingly are at a distinct disadvantage. We may claim to be more liberal about our language, but those judgements still exist.

Note: I'm using my phone to type this, fat fingers and all, so please forgive errors. And that picture isn't really me: it came up automatically.

samfiorella moderator 5pts

@Kathy_Salaman  "Some of the rules are simply begging to be broken!"  @AlisonWordsmith did you hear this?! Next typo I make is really a rule just begging to be broken! Yeah, that's it.  Ms. Salaman said so!

AmyVernon 5pts

Funny side note: The headline got totally garbled when I set it up to tweet this through Triberr. It was kind of comical.

I only think a few companies are affected by poor grammar - too many customers have no idea what proper grammar is. However, to me, it's like nails on the chalkboard.

annelizhannan 5pts

While I may be more forgiving with the grammar and spelling errors with companies that are selling a widget, I am not when it comes to a companies that are selling services. With a tangible product, I can be more lenient as not necessarily equating good manufacturing process or practice to the quality of communications to sell the product; whereas with a service I most definitely find that if they are 'lax' in their editing it is a defining moment that the brand can or will provide quality in any of their services. 

I hail from the health care field where literacy is a significant issue in adherence from patients as well as care given to the consumer. Slight miscommunication, grammatical error or misspelling of a word can have dire consequences. While I agree that transformational grammar may be our future, in this field, grammatical error can indeed change the meaning. For instance: An order given to a patient regarding a medication 'Take two times daily' (short form) has lead to a misinterpretation by the patient that it is OK to take the med sequentially an hour apart. What the phrase actually means is to take the medication 12 hours apart (big difference). This is where 'elastic rules' will have a snap that can hurt.    

samfiorella moderator 5pts

@annelizhannan  The conundrum is that blogs are essentially free and open for anyone to create/use. Not everyone can afford an editor but we advocate that businesses must have a presence in social media and that blogs are key communication vehicles. Yet most small businesses cannot afford editors. 

Social media growing pains I guess. 

Elliot Davies
Elliot Davies 5pts

I have never seen myself as a "grammar nazi" (I concern myself more with semantic correctness than grammatical correctness), but still I can feel my standards relaxing a little. 

Transformational grammar is the future. The sort of sentences in which a grammatical error might fundamentally change the meaning are uncommon, almost solely the preserve of English Language textbooks. So long as the meaning of a sentence is clear, grammatical rules are elastic:


samfiorella moderator 5pts

@Elliot Davies  Google as an arbitrator of acceptable grammar? My editor is losing it right now (which sorta makes me happy!). I agree that transformation grammar is the future. 
cc @AlisonWordsmith

Elliot Davies
Elliot Davies 5pts

@samfiorella @AlisonWordsmith Don't worry, we didn't treat Google as an arbitrator. Rather, I used Google trends to try and reinforce the idea that I had transformational grammar on my side. It was an attempt to prove that people do use the verb "have" in the same way as I did.

Unfortunately, I found that I was incorrect.

Milaspage 5pts

Excellent article Sam, I almost cringe to out a comment in since I'm on mobile and prone to these typos and autocorrects. However, I'm commenting anyway- the reason is very much the same as the reason I will forgive content producers for not being perfect: we all need editors. As an author, I am sure you did your very best writing your book for example, but I am willing to bet that you went through many edits. You probably were never so grateful for this kind of assistance, I know that when I have the privilege of an editor , I could not be more grateful. So, what of the items that can't go through edits - the tweets, the quick blog posts and of course the text messages? I would much rather read good content with ideas I can understand and use, than mediocre content from stern grammar policemen. The world has become to wide to limit contet to those who can only work with editors - so for value, I'm willing to read between the typos (as long as they are reasonable). Send me a letter or print with typos and I will not be impressed, but for the most part I can respect that we are all human. It helps to use tools and try and take our time. For example I love Grammarly for doing a quick review - and it's also fantastic for identifying plaigiarism (when you're reviewing content of others). I think the bottom line is what is reasonably expected for each form of communication, this is the new norm, and I am okay with that. At least until every thought leader out there or community manager is given the privilege of an editor. Talent isn't perfect everywhere, it just has to hit the Mark where it matters.

samfiorella moderator 5pts

@Milaspage  I know what proper grammar is if I'm tested. Yet, more often than not, I don't use it when writing. I type almost 100 words/minute, which causes many mistakes. I also don't plan an article so it's often a stream of consciousness...again, creates tons of errors. Lastly, I'm a horrible proof reader, so without an editor my  posts would be riddled with little mistakes. 

So I'd have to agree that good content wins out over good grammar. That being said, I have to admit that I discount the quality of an article when I see more than one mistake in spelling/grammar. I know, hypocrite. 

karensd 5pts

Please keep in mind, you started this... 

  • Victoria’s Secret misused an apostrophe in its campaign that claimed, “You’ve never seen body’s like this!” 

It's not an apostrophe error. It should read: "You've never seen bodies like this!"

  • (well, accept for the special task force assigned to monitor my every written word online (ahem…Alison King, Gini Dietrich, and Linda Bernstein)).  

It's except, not accept...you can add me to your list apparently...

  • It’s why I employ an editor to review my posts, which are often riddled with typos due to my inability to proof read.

And proofread is one word. 


Signed, the grammar nazi....


samfiorella moderator 5pts

@karensd  Karen - you are officially added to my personal grammar police task force.  It's about time Alison (my editor) gets it too! :) 

Mamacita1 5pts

I pay attention to the "grammar of marketing."  Careless in front = even more careless in the back.  Proper grammar and correct spelling are essential; they indicate respect for the customer and quality of the product/service. 

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