Great communication doesn't care about rules.

And why gramer is for nerd'z.

I used this image (visible in the web version) on a Copy School presentation, adorned with the same headline as this post. I also had another slide with the subhead. Much to the dismay of Chris Taylor, the chair of the Melbourne leg of the course, who said (with a smile):

'Great. Everyone else told them how important it is to know this stuff, and then you come in and do this.’

But, I imagine that’s also precisely why he got me to come in. And again in the future. Because ‘rules’ are there to be rules when appropriate, and to be torn asunder when not.

Before any grammar police reading this develop an eye twitch that would register on the Richter scale, I will clarify that any good writer should have a reasonable understanding of grammar and punctuation and all of that stuff. However, it isn’t the be all and end all to copywriting. (So if you’re an aspiring writer who isn’t strong in these areas, don’t stress. Neither was/am I.)

A writer who respects the rules and has perfect punctuation, spelling, and grammar, with no personality, character, or great creative leaps, is completely worthless. A writer who doesn’t care much for rules and has shit punctuation, spelling, and grammar, but can write with personality, character, and take big creative leaps, has vast potential.

This is because writers do not write for the sake of the rules of writing. They write to communicate. That’s the end goal. To deliver a message that resonates, unearths emotion, and connects on a personal level. And in advertising, we have but mere seconds to achieve this. This requires creative corner cutting aka rule breaking.

Great communication does not care about following rules. It pushes them, kicks them, bends them, and then throws a brick through the rule’s window and sets them on fire.

Apple’s iconic ‘Think Different’ tagline.

‘Think Different’ is grammatically incorrect. It should be ‘Think Differently’. No one cares. Think Differently sounds shit. Therefore the rules are shit. So break them.

Mercedes launched a new coupe with the line ‘More Power. Less Doors.’ A stickler for grammar will tell you it should be ‘Fewer Doors.’ No one cares. More and Less bounce off each other nicely and communicate efficiently.

‘Eat Fresh’, ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’, there’s plenty of examples of positioning lines that break with the conventions of the English Language. Not only do they communicate faster, but the fact that they break the rules is part of the attraction. It’s why they stand out.

If your message cuts through all the other competing messages, then you’ve won. Regardless of who would’ve had less red marker on their English exam. My English exams used to be covered in red lines and crosses. Now I’d wager I probably get more work (and more money to do so) than writers who didn’t.

There’s also argument to expand this theory beyond traditional copywriting. The rules can be bent and broken to your advantage in a vast array of mediums. If you’ve ever read Bukowski, that dude wrote like an unhinged maniac (mostly because he was) and many regard him as one of the greats.

This is a viral tweet of mine. It uses no capitalisation, no punctuation, the whole thing is a grammatical mess. It’s purposely written to run the way it does to lead the reader astray before catching them off guard. 54k likes. (Used to be 62k or something before everyone nuked their accounts and left twitter post-Elon lol)

In any regard, if the rules, codes, guidelines, whatever, in place are there to make the work better, or at a minimum reinforce great work, then the rules are good. But as soon as rules become an encumbrance, hindering possibility and creative expression…. it’s brick through the window time.

If you don’t know all the rules of writing back-to-front, don’t worry about it. Neither do I. Invent your own.

The best writers carve the sharpest words, not the most ‘correct’.


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