Why you should make grammar your brand’s bitch.
Grammar. The very word conjures images of schoolroom torture, rule recitation and red marks on book reports. No other subject more perfectly embodies the petty oppression of childhood, professional life and polite society. Being told to “talk right” is a shackle we’ve all wanted to throw off at some point. It's that constricted feeling you’re reminded of when you sit down to do your brand copywriting. Not super fun.
But any good rebel will tell you that rules were meant to be broken. Tom Waits, for instance, would say that deviantism, when done deliberately, systematically, and with purpose, is high art. It is character. It is trademark. It is cool.
Copywriting is no exception. Grammar is a set of conventions that can be bent, broken or shunned altogether. You’re an adult now. You can know the rules and just deadass decide to do things your own way. Innovation in this area is as valid as it is in tech, logistics, design, or any other. The ironic thing is, doing what your teachers told you not to could be the thing that sets your brand apart and leads you to wild success in the business world. You don’t need to ditch school and deal drugs to be bad. You just need to be a little creative with your use of language.
Besides, signature syntax doesn’t need to be super disruptive to be effective. It can be subtle and smart. It’s like meeting a person with a certain something about them that you can’t quite name. You don’t notice it, but you do. Think of Clinique’s periods and Jaden Smith’s title case Twitter feed. (We also really love our client nununu for their no-caps-ever policy—they make clothes for children, so keeping it little makes perfect sense when you see it.) None of these brands seems sloppy or destructive. Quite the opposite. They’re 100% who they are in a tidily distinctive way.
Which is not to say that you can’t go big with it. Take Kendrick Lamar’s recent album, DAMN. Every track on there, like the title, is one word, all caps, with a period at the end. When you call it up on Spotify, before you even listen to one bar, you are already immersed in the brand of the album. You already know that this thing is about making a bold statement. The track list tells you that, just by saying IDGAF to case and punctuation. The key is consistency. If you’re wrong the same way every time, then you’re right.
Hip-hop overall is a deep font of inspiration for using grammar as an arbitrary, ownable element. It’s that explosive combination of highly literary and totally aberrant that makes the art form undeniable. Rappers, some of our finest writers and greatest rebels, are not subjects of the King’s English. They are free to play fast and loose with the rules, to show us fresh ways of saying things that push beyond the boundaries of traditional expression. You can do that too.