How bad writing can harm a brand’s image – it’s not hip to be (Wembley) Square (Part 5)

I jumped back onto my high horse after an innocent trip to the loo, a dilemma and a solution served up on a silver platter.

My previous columns on how bad writing can ruin otherwise good marketing targeted Foschini andStandard Bank and involved a good deal of research into their online marketing and social media interactions. My latest victim, Wembley Square, however, delivered themselves up to me like a lamb to the slaughter. Let me explain.

On Tuesday I had breakfast at Knead in Wembley Square. This followed a hard circuit training session with my PT (Personal Torturer) and many, many glasses of water. Excusing myself and leaving all of my belongings with my friend, I rushed empty-handed to the pristine Wembley Square toilets.

My relief soon turned to despair as my eyes settled on the poster on the back of the door to the toilet cubicle. At first irritated at being forced to stare at a poster promoting Valentine’s Day, I took a closer look: beautiful graphics, a clever (if contrived) by-line and then the words.

The horror. The horror.

Unlike Joseph Conrad’s (Mistah) Kurtz, the horror I experienced had nothing to do with my own heinous actions. My disgust was focused on the words someone had been paid to write on the bottom of the poster –the heart of bad writing’s darkness. Where do I begin?

I could have treated the capital ‘P’ on patrons as an overzealous attempt to make their patrons feel important. I may even have overlooked the erroneous confusion of a capital font for the ‘H’ and ‘T’ and a small font for the ‘ear’. (Although I do think the indiscriminate and inappropriate use of the upper case deserves capital punishment.)

But there is no justification for getting the name of the day wrong. Twice. The whole point of the marketing exercise is to encourage people to spend Valentine’s Day at the Square. Valentine’s Day is referred to twice in the short text, both incorrectly.

Look it up in an actual dictionary. Search on the internet. Perform a simple spell check. Ask someone. Phone a friend.

The dilemma

As my six-year-old son, Sam, knows, as soon as I see such a sign or poster, I take a photo of it on my phone so that I can tweet or write about it later. (In fact, he has even started sourcing material for me. I often hear him shouting excitedly, “Mom, come and look at this, I found something for in other words!”.)

But, I had left my phone at the table. I hurried back but on the way realised I was in a classic damned-if-I-do-and-damned-if-I-don’t situation. While I would never have been able to recreate the whole of the poster from memory, there was no way I could take a camera into a toilet cubicle.

Picture the scene: lady walks into a public toilet, goes into a cubicle, closes the door and starts clicking away at her camera. Even if your mind doesn’t naturally go there, mine did, and so I didn’t.

The gift horse

I left without having figured how to share this gaffe with you and woke up the next morning to an email newsletter from Wembley Square. This monthly marketing effort contained the offending poster and much, much more. And, having been brought up to accept gifts graciously and share with others whenever possible, I felt duty bound to write this column.

The newsletter is riddled with spelling, grammar and writing mistakes, both in the general text and in the specific tenant adverts. There are too many to analyse here and I urge you to read it correctly and spot them yourself.

A few that caused that familiar visceral reaction in my gut are:

Whats on”

“a prospourus 2012”

“pyscological confusion”

“a young artist Who’s Work”

Collateral damage

The aftertaste in my mouth is bitter. It’s a bubbling cauldron of carelessness and disrespect for the customer seasoned with a lack of professionalism. The business is clearly cutting corners on marketing and administrative expenses. Who knows what else they have economised on?

In my first column on the relationship between poor writing and the image of a brand, I quoted Matthew Stibbe, CEO of London-based Articulate Marketing. He maintains that “every time your potential consumer encounters your brand you communicate something about your brand.”

Katie Shoard- Senior Copywriter at Red C Agency in Manchester – wrote an article on bad spelling and its effect on our perception of a brand’s service offering. It’s well worth reading for the way she demonstrates how spelling mistakes affect the credibility of a brand.

But I think our own Mike Said of brandStrategy (Don’t you just love the offbeat use of upper and lower case?) said it even better when he cautioned on Twitter that “(m)arketing is not a department, it’s the sum total of everything that you do.” (@mike_said_what)

The final Sinn

Oh, and if all this pedantry leaves you hungry, don’t forget to sample Sinn’s “gormet” selection. But you’d better hurry; they are only open from “11am to 12pm”.