Why Coca Cola needs a grammar lesson
Coca Cola earned more than 900 million dollars in sales last year so you’d think they could afford to employ a few people who understand the basic rules of English grammar. But it seems that no-one in the “world’s largest beverage company” knows the rules. Or perhaps they don’t think they are important enough to use correctly.
The company is in the midst of a huge promotion campaign for their new drink, Coco-Cola Life. The strap line in the full page newspaper advert proclaims
More choice, less calories
How could this howler have escaped the scrutiny of the myriad of ad agency copywriters, editors, production staff who came up with the concept let alone the company’s marketing team who approved it for publication?. Wasn’t there even one person who thought that line seemed wrong? Or is this a case where the principles of good writing are considered way too old fashioned for a brand appealing to a youth market?
The odd thing is that the body text actually says … ” a third fewer calories” (my italics) and other ads use the line ‘lower calories’ both of which are correct. So how did this aberration get through?
It’s bad enough when local shopkeepers get over enthusiastic and add apostrophes wherever there’s a plural on the horizon but for a world leading company this is unforgivable.
In case anyone wants a quick primer on how to decide whether to use fewer or less, here is a useful reference. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/less-or-fewer
15 thoughts on “Why Coca Cola needs a grammar lesson”
I wrote that post a few years ago but reading it again today I do wonder why I said lower calories was correct. Lower calorie value would have been ok. I think your point is valid and it does sound clumsy and wrong. Thanks for getting me to revisit this.
In your post, you mention “lower calories” as being correct; I’m a bit puzzled as to how. I understand that either “lower calorie beverage” or “lower in calories” can be correct. But when you have something discrete and countable like calories are, they can’t be “lower,” only “fewer.” Trained in British English so would love to hear more from your perspective. Thanks! 🙂
Thank you for your email.
We recognise the phrase is not grammatically correct, but we believe it is widely understood by consumers and will therefore have the desired impact of raising awareness of our efforts to reduce the calorie content of some of our brands and give consumers even greater choice.
Thank you once again for taking the time to contact us with your comments.
Consumer Interaction Centre
Coca-Cola Great Britain
I agree with you. I wonder whether it is deliberate, since this ad has now been running for several weeks. Maybe they want bloggers to write about it.
Just one point: their new brand is not called “Coco-Cola Life.”
The people who most often came out with grammatical gaffs when I was working in HE were the Department of Education. We used to correct their letters and send them back to them. We never got a response. I wonder why?
Isn’t the current thinking in education that you shouldn’t correct children’s errors in spelling/grammar because it would stifle their creativity? I don’t want to sound offensive but that sounds nonsensical to me that we are encouraging people to write in a way that will render their communication difficult to understand. its hardly preparing them for a good future.
My approach when I was teaching primary was always that you got the story written first and made sure that it said what you wanted it to say. Then you sorted out the spelling, grammar, punctuation and handwriting afterwards as a politeness towards whoever was going to read it. You can’t ask ten and eleven year olds to concentrate on too much at once.
To me, that ad is just like fingernails raking down a blackboard. Based on my experience, I bet there were editors who pointed out the mistake, but got overruled.
I have bruises from discussions with people who take issue when I try to correct their text or because I have used words in a way that doesn’t accord with their thinking. I’m forever removing capital letters and changing ‘assured’ to ‘ensured’
Just seeing this ad makes me cringe. Unfortunately, i think that rather than being a grammar leader, Coke has decided to dumb it down so that it sounds better. There copy department must of thought its funner this way [sic].
Oh yes it was hilarious wasn’t it. If that was their intention then I’d sack the whole bunch of them for failing to make me even smile
A person after my own heart bookertalk. Advertisers are a law unto themselves. I do love, though, that they had “fewer” in the small print. That’s a hoot.
As for apostrophes, my mantra is “when in doubt, leave it out”. I find that far less distracting (oops, perhaps I should have written “far fewer” – ha ha) than finding them inappropriately populating text.
I do enjoy advertising that plays with words but it still has to use language in the correct way and not pretend that rules don’t exist and just anything goes. Maybe they just don’t even know there is a difference in meaning between less and fewer – that somehow they are interchangeable and mean the same thing. Oh dear, it gets worse does;’t it the more I think about that
I’m afraid that’s probably it … They don’t really know so go for what they think “sounds” right.