Slang in Advertising

We see and hear more “slang” and “street talk” used in advertising than ever before. How do you know when to use slang and when to adhere to the established rules of English, including grammar and spelling?

Start by realizing that there there are several kinds of slang.

Playful vocabulary words, phrases, or figures of speech that are substitutes for more established words), i.e. geek (intellectual), brewski (beer), jock (athkete), rubber necking (gawking), perp (perpatrator), weed (marijuana).

Informal words and phrases are considered slang until they become so common they become widely accepted as part of the standard lexicon.  “Yup” is in the dictionary and has become acceptable.  “Ain’t” is in some dictionaries, but is still not considered proper.

In general, slang words are more acceptable in broadcast media than in print.

Slang should never be vulgar or offensive and should be used for a valid reason such as to mimic the way certain consumers speak. Usually the ad should indicate that the words are the voice of the customer, not the advertiser.

Keep in mind that advertisers such as luxury cars and financial institutions that target educated, prosperous consumers seldom employ slang.

Mispronounced or misspelled words such as “ya” (you), “gotcha” (got you), or “wanna” (want to).

This form of casual slang is rarely used in print, especially in body copy, where the words are usually written as if they came from the brand itself. Misspelled words should only be used intentionally and for a valid reason, such as to connote a “street” attitude.

McDonalds’ slogan “I’m lovin’ it,” is intentionally misspelled because it represents the attitude of a happy customer. Staples old slogan, “Yeah, we’ve got that,” was written as if it were spoken a retail store employee.

Mispronounced, misspelled slang words can be written into a broadcast script, but are often unnecessary. Actors can be directed to casually pronounce words no matter how they are spelled. “Gimme a beer,” or “Give me a beer,” might sound the same in the final recorded commercial.

Bad grammar (“street grammar”) is a third form of slang.

In a print ad, the copy is usually represents the words of the brand itself, so proper grammar is usually required

However, street grammar may be acceptable to some advertisers.  A fast food chain might allow it, a university medical center would not. It should be only be used if it is necessary to give a “street” tonality to the copy.

“Got Milk?” is poor grammar, but more catchy than “Do you have milk?”  It elicited few complaints. Apple’s “Think creative” slogan took heat from the media and educators.  Apple responded that “Think creatively,” which is grammatically correct. sounded too formal, but they quickly abandoned their slogan.

The best way to avoid bad grammar: skillful writing

Sometimes proper grammar sounds unnatural or too formal in a TV or radio commercial.   “He and I went to the movies.”

On the other hand, the following sentence is poor grammar “Him and me went to the movies.”

There is usually a way to rewrite the copy so it sounds natural and is also grammatically correct.  “He went to the movies with me.” “We both went to the movies.” Or,  “We went to the movies together.”

STORY SUBMITTED BY: Advertising Adjunct Professor, Peter Cornish. He can be reached at:

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