From Crest to Ford: Bad Ad Grammar

Woman brushing teeth - should advertisors use proper grammar?Should ad agencies pay attention to grammar? If you hear something that grates on your ear, does that grating extend to the product?

Crest toothpaste is running an ad that features a young woman who used to think all toothpastes were, as she claims, “pretty much the same. But then my husband started getting better checkups than me.”

Than me? She no doubt is parroting what the ad agency’s script says, but does her statement follow guidelines of standard grammar?

Here’s how you can tell: Carry the sentence just two words further to add the implied comparison.

  • My husband started getting better checkups than me (was getting).
  • My husband started getting better checkups that I (was getting).

Not a hard choice, right?

Ford’s “Go Further” has raised a lot more ire than has Crest’s “than me.” A colleague who used to do communication training emailed me about it several of months ago. The online comments I found show that she has company in questioning Ford’s use of further vs. farther in this case. Here’s a generous comment from a Yahoo forum:

Ford may have chosen “further” to imply that the owner/driver can be more successful driving a Ford.

Here’s an observation and suggestion from Gary Kinder, who blogs as WORDRAKE:

At one time, “farther” and “further” were the same word. Over a few centuries, their meanings split. “Farther” mostly referred to “distance,” and “further” mostly referred to “quantity or degree.”

“Use words that average people understand, but whether you’re a huge corporation or an individual, never purposely use a word incorrectly because you fear your audience might resent your using the correct word. That only contributes to the dumbing down of America. Ford should travel the high road. They might not sell more cars, but neither would they sell fewer.”

And speaking of fewer, Gary also took Ford to task for this grammar faux pas when boasting about its hybrid:

Ford claims: That means less trips to the gas station.

It should be: That means fewer trips to the gas station. (Less is for quantities; fewer is for things you can count.)

But it was The Crabby Copy Editor Diane Faulkner who really lived up to her name as she chastised Ford:

Henry Ford was a very meticulous and accomplished man. I know this, because I grew up in Michigan, and the Ford story, as well as Ransom Eli Olds’, was an addendum to the New Testament, Torah, and any other holy book you can name. That stated, I cannot imagine Mr. Ford signing off on any advertising campaign so grammatically incorrect as the one now blasted on the airwaves and in every other medium.

“Ford: Go Further.”

Really?

Oh, please. The brain trusts who put those words together should have researched further to learn that what they are asking potential customers to do is “Go More.” “Go Additional” is just too painful to say. It is hard enough for me to type, because every fiber of my being wants to do a handstand on the delete key.

I shouldn’t be so harsh on those ill-educated copy writers, though, because the further/farther error is made so often and by so many people who should know better, teachers and professors included, that the mistake goes nearly undetected.

Except by me.

And a few others, Diane.

I don’t like grammatical errors in advertising because they can be perceived by such a broad audience as acceptable usage. And maybe the ‘acceptable’ grammar of the moment is OK — until, that is, you get into a position where you’re being judged by how you express yourself.

Let’s let someone at Ford have the last word. Blogger Les Cohn at WordFeeder decided to go right to the source. Here’s a link to the response he got, which is longer than I want to take space for. Let me know if you think it promotes further understanding and will further Ford’s sales.

Had I been on the advertising team, I might have suggested “We Go Further” to better communicate who’s going where.

Kathy Watson
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Kathy Watson

Kathy has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

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