The deterioration of spelling and grammar usage in younger generations is a topic that has been discussed for years. The finger has been pointed at TV, the school systems, spell check, and now, social media.
The Wall Street Journal reported a study by the Society for Human Resource Management that said half of the employers surveyed are planning to implement training programs to remedy bad grammar in the office. And most of those employers placed the blame squarely on younger employees. Tamara Erickson, an author and consultant on generational issues, says the problem isn’t lack of skill, but rather that younger generations do not see grammar as very important or as an indicator of intelligence.
I am among this younger, grammar-poor generation, and I see this in myself, my colleagues, and my friends. I see it in emails and on Facebook, and I hear it in conversation. I do, however, consider myself pretty good at grammar, when I’m paying attention to it. I had an excellent English teacher in high school, Mr. Gurall, who drilled “the rules” quite permanently into my head. Despite this, I only got 77% correct in this WSJ Grammar quiz. Furthermore, this blog post is written more like the spoken word than the King’s English. Come on, 20- and 30-somethings – let’s just work harder at this; it’s good for our image and the image of the companies we represent.
But, I digress. As time goes on, cadences change. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary adds and updates words on a monthly basis.
We must adapt as well. Particularly in marketing, which, at the end of the day, is all about communicating the right message to the right people. While improper grammar and spelling can make a brand look stupid, there are always going to be instances when the proper way is not always the correct way.
The important thing is to remember your audience. How stuffy would the famous Got Milk? campaign seem if the California Milk Processor Board insisted on Do you have milk? or Are you drinking milk?
On the flip side, the only response a direct mail piece with poor grammar will elicit from an affluent baby boomer is, perhaps, someone correcting it and mailing it back to you.
By the way, I understand the casual nature of communicating on social media, but some mistakes are just not OK.