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

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!”  Barack 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.)

There’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.

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 how 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?