I suppose I shouldn’t assume that small businesses who do their own radio spots are always to blame for the odd – and often funny – gaffes I hear in their commercials. It’s possible that a good agency would know better, but then again, not all agencies are good. Some of the work I suspect of being homegrown is like those optical illusion graphics that look like one thing if you already know what it is, but look like something completely different if you don’t.
The point is, a radio commercial should not make you unravel what the sponsor means. If you don’t catch it on the first bounce, someone has wasted a lot of money.
One of the characteristics of English is that we like the objects of our verbs and prepositions to be close to them. The farther away the object is from the verb or preposition, the greater the chance that some incidental noun along the way will be perceived as the object. For example:
Throw the cow over the fence some hay.
Toss your grandfather down the stairs his jacket.
When are you going to get out of my house the lawn chairs?
One of the easiest ways to tell that a writer is not a native English-speaker is that the word order is just a little “off.” But even native English speakers are not immune to the problem of garbled word order. Today I heard a radio ad that said:
Why can’t a plumber tell me how much it will cost to unplug my drain over the phone?
My first thoughts were, “You can unplug a drain over the phone? That’s amazing! How do they do it? Sonic waves? Robots? I have to see this!” The sentence should have been:
Why can’t a plumber tell me over the phone how much it will cost to unplug my drain?
Another characteristic of English is that when we use multiple subjects or verbs with multiple objects, it is assumed that all actions apply to all objects. Here’s another ad I’ve heard many times:
We will kill, eradicate, and replace all termites, rats, and old attic insulation.
I don’t mind if they try to kill the attic insulation, but – really – do they have to replace the rats and termites? Can I decline that option?
Perhaps my favorite example of this multiple subject–multiple object confusion is the TV ad on behalf of some class-action law outfit:
If you or a member of your family have suffered injury, paralysis, amputation, or death, please call this number today …1-800-2SLEAZY.
The two uses of the word “or” mean that all subjects apply to all objects. So – stay with me here – if you (one of the subjects) have suffered death (one of the consequences), how are you hearing this commercial? And even more important, how do you intend to pay us?
©2013 Text CPR, LLC. All rights Reserved.