Home > Uncategorized > Grammar failure in advertising

Grammar failure in advertising

I just saw a Tide commercial featuring the slogan, “Style is an option.  Clean is not.”  Now, I think what they were trying to say was that, while wearing stylish clothes is nonessential, having clean clothes is obligatory.   But in that case, they should’ve said, “Style is optional.  Clean is not.”  If something is not optional, then it is required.   But what their slogan actually says is that cleanliness is not an option — a phrase meaning that it is unavailable or impermissible.  (As in “failure is not an option” — meaning that whatever happens, you must not fail.  If failure is not an option, then success is not optional, i.e. mandatory.  The two phrases sound similar, but they’re direct opposites.)  So their slogan actually says the opposite of what they intended.  “Buy Tide, because you’re not allowed to have clean clothes!”

How did this get on the air?  Out of all the people at the detergent company and the ad agency, wasn’t there anyone who was well enough versed in English usage to know the difference?

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Charlie
    December 26, 2010 at 8:50 pm

    until you mentioned it…i had not noticed….but NOW its like a HUGE mistake and I keep thinking about it! ha!

  2. December 26, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    I’m guessing someone in the process knew it was bad English but they went with it anyway, kind of like the “Think Different”. Maybe it’s supposed to remind people subconsciously of the phrase “failure is not an option” and that’s where they come up with the phrase they used in the ad.

    • December 27, 2010 at 8:12 am

      “Maybe it’s supposed to remind people subconsciously of the phrase ‘failure is not an option’ and that’s where they come up with the phrase they used in the ad.”

      But that’s exactly the problem. Their slogan can be rephrased as “clean is not an option,” which, by analogy with the familiar expression, is clearly saying that “clean” is not to be allowed. So if they were consciously going for a riff on “failure is not an option,” that makes the result even more monumentally incompetent.

      • December 27, 2010 at 7:19 pm

        That’s all true but I’m just saying I don’t think it’s a matter of no one at the agency not knowing grammar. I think the ad agency knew full well what they were saying was not grammatically correct, they decided what they were doing was going to stick in peoples mind more and sell more Tide.

      • December 27, 2010 at 8:16 pm

        I just don’t see how “an option” is going to stick better than “optional.” Heck, if you ask me, it would scan better with “optional” and thus be catchier as well as correct.

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