5 things apostrophe rage tells us about copywriting 21 March 2013

Copywriting…what has it got to do with apostrophe outrage, grammar fury or heated debates about the rules of language? Well, rather a lot actually. I’m guessing it’s not often that Mid Devon District Council hits the news on a global scale.

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But a recent decision created a response that I’m sure the councillors never anticipated.

“Confusing” is how the council described the apostrophe. It’s this view that lay behind the proposed plan to remove this seemingly extraneous grammatical feature from local street signs. Outrage is what happened next. So much so that the council are now reconsidering their decision. But what does the very public and international reaction to the news tell us about copywriting?

1. People notice

The worldwide response to the signage strategy of one local authority in rural England is an important reminder of one important fact: people notice. This in turn is a nudge about the reality that poor grammar really does add up to a dodgy first impression. In copywriting, credibility begins with following the fundamental rules before creating something new.

2. The medium matters as much as the message

How could the humble apostrophe spark such a massive backlash – and why does it matter? The answer lies in what is also an important message for copywriting: how we’re saying something matters just as much as what we’re trying to say.

3. We have an emotional attachment to language

Grammar is just a set of rules that we follow as we choose. In theory. In practice, we all have a much more emotional connection to language than we’d care to admit. OK, I’m proud to admit it, but then I’m a copywriter. This furore (that’s a word to which I’m rather emotionally attached) states again the power of language, both within and outside of copywriting.

4. Following the rules builds credibility

‘Apostrophe-gate’ also confirms just how deeply the rules matter to people. It’s not simply about things looking nice or about imparting the required information. In copywriting, breaking the rules can be used to powerful effect. But it needs to be done within a familiar structure.

5. Content is not just information

A place name. It’s just the, er, name of a place, isn’t it? If these signs are only for information, why has the world become so caught up in the council’s business? These signs are stating a fact – not telling a story or educating kids, so why the worry? Because, as copywriting tells us, all content has the potential to influence, interest and even inspire. We humans are hard-wired to respond to content in this way. Like it or not, we all look for messages within content. Why ignore the opportunity to say something that stays with people, rather than confuses or worse, as in this very public drama, enrages them?

By Camilla Zajac, Green Light Copywriting, Nottingham, March 2013

P.S. Like to talk about your own copywriting approach? Just get in touch.

  1. Hmmm. Okay, I’ll try to use apostrophes if you lead a campaign against the “-gate” suffix

    John    Mar 22, 12:03 pm    #

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