How bad writing can harm a brand’s image (Part 2)

Finding material for a column on bad writing is not difficult. (I am not usually a fan of litotes but in this context it works for me. At least I didn’t write “so not difficult”.) The challenge lies in choosing a focus and, for the purpose of this series of columns, mine is online marketing.

Websites and social media platforms are the point at which formal business marketing material meets ordinary written communications. Day-to-day written communications are composed by employees conducting the business of the company in the course of their employment.

Traditional marketing material, on the other hand, usually involves the work of copywriters, sub-editors, proofreaders, designers, layout experts, marketing managers, advertising agencies and specialised printing presses. All of which contribute to both its cost and the long lead time from concept to finished product.

 While the content used on websites and social media platforms may be written and designed by professional copywriters and designers rather than ordinary employees, there are no printing costs and content can be uploaded instantaneously at the push of a button. This makes online communications suitable to changing content and interaction with consumers.

I have little doubt that if I picked through almost any corporate website or twitter feed with the proverbial fine-toothed comb, I would find enough material to fill many a column on bad writing. Luckily for most online marketers I don’t have the time or the inclination to do this.

Also, rather than pointing fingers at individuals whose superiors may condemn them to the growing ranks of the unemployed for their written gaffes, I have focussed on two well-known brands. The writing in question is publicly available on their websites or Twitter feeds. (Forgive the absence of Facebook-based examples. I am so over Facebook.)

I was drawn to the first by a tweet bemoaning its website’s bad spelling (thanks @rosecohen via the Editor), and the other fell into my lap while I was trying to do some online banking.

So let’s move from theory to practical examples. Or, to be blunt, let the naming and shaming begin.  (I have underlined the errors I found so that my sister doesn’t think that they crept into my typing.)

SA retail chain store Foschini has a website,, on which I found the following gems:

Rose Cohen’s tweet directed me to the reference to a jersey as “a ferile knit”. I suppose they meant Fair Isle, which refers to traditional multicoloured geometric designs on knitwear. My spell-check underlines “ferile” and on closer inspection I find the word does not exist. I have absolutely no sympathy for those who publish documents without running spell-check.

  • A clothing model dispenses the following advice: “Heels will always make you look taller and is a must with…” I don’t think this warrants any further comment.
  • In a blurb about a new style of pants: “If you are asking yourself exactly what a houlihan pant is. Let megive you the low down. It is defined by it’s skinny shape. I prefer to wear mine with a slim fitting denim shirt, giving you a long clean silhouette.” And later in the same paragraph – houlihand pant is named after a MASH character.” MASH creator, Larry Gelbart, must be turning in his grave.  

All fairly obvious and glaring errors, you will agree. The type that would surely throw themselves at any discerning user of the website, even one whose glance was only cursory. (Naysayers may try point out a flaw in my argument, protesting that no such reader would browse this particular website. If they do so, Rose Cohen, Glenda Nevill and I will be offended.)

Even if this brand’s target market was made up solely of fashion-conscious 15-year-olds, surely they deserve better than this? Incidentally, they list their target consumer in their 2010 Annual Report to be18 – 35 years old within LSM 6 – 10.

Well, Foschini, so long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye. I’ve already overstayed my welcome.

And, on that note, I’ll leave you to ponder which of our illustrious financial institutions goes under my pedantic spotlight next week.


This column first appeared on