Friday, October 22, 2010

"Clean is not an option"

I don’t expect advertisers to hew to formal English, or even standard English, but the tagline for Tide's current ads has been bugging me for a while. It reads:

STYLE IS AN OPTION. CLEAN IS NOT. 

Surely that's not what Tide really wants to say? "X is not an option," in the language I speak, means X is not a possibility, X is totally unthinkable – as in the famous "Apollo 13" line, “Failure is not an option.” 

I think the copywriters were trying to say that "clean is not optional" – that fashion is a choice, but cleanliness is mandatory (an article of faith, surely, among detergent manufacturers). 

The “style” half of the tagline has its own problems. My first reading of “Style is an option” would be that you can choose to be stylish or unstylish; but that doesn’t make much sense in an ad focused on looking good. No, the writers seem to be using “style is an option” as shorthand for “your style is up to you." It isn’t exactly idiomatic English, but at least – unlike the second part of the tagline – it doesn’t say the opposite of what it means. 

I guess the intent is so clear (that's what pictures are for) that it doesn't really matter what the tagline says. Or is this usage really changing? Time and Tide wait for no man, they say, and it could be they've left me in the dust. 

16 comments:

Benji said...

True, tag lines used in advertising tend to bend or even turn blind eye on rules in grammar. As the goal is to gain attention from a customer, sometimes advertisers write things in a way to get that attention. Personally, I think it works because the brand does not want to associate itself with known catch phrases like what you mentioned. In the end, it's all about sales figures.

Edith Ann said...

Once upon a time in college, I had a comp class where we studied the gramatical construction of ads. It completely ruined this control freak on reading ad copy. It makes me insane to this day.

Enjoying your blog so much!

EA

The Book Nut said...

To be quite honest, if Tide were the only choice, I'm afraid clean wouldn't be an option in our home. My wife and my wallet are both seriously allergic to it!

Big Girl Jewelry said...

Although it wouldn't be fully correct, changing the tag line to "Style is optional. Clean is not." would make more sense. Unfortunately, even newscasters no longer speak proper English these days.

John Cowan said...

"Cleanliness is said to be next to godliness, but neither godliness nor anything else can substitute for cleanliness." --I forget who

Harry Campbell said...

Yes, that's bewildering. They surely screwed up there. A slogan that you can only make sense fo from context is a non-starter. Even "Style is optional; clean is not" is not great: "stylish ... clean" would be less clunky. Even then it's not in the least clever. A good candidate for feeblest ad slogan of the year.

nova said...

Yeah, I read that tag line the same way you did; as 'being clean is not a possibility'. *sigh*

p.s. I love this blog.

empty said...

Yet a lot of thought went into the slogan and the advertising campaign of which it is a part. Offensive though it is to you and me, I don't think it is a blunder.

JeffScape said...

I'm with you. "Style is optional" should have been perfectly acceptable for the ad.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Offensive? She only said it was confusing. That's not the same thing as offensive.

doodler said...

[You] should always say what you mean, if you do not then you can never mean what you say - Film: the Last Emperor. I agree with all except the first comment. Yes, the purpose of advertising is to grab attention, but as a public platform which is absorbed by all it has a responsibility to use the language properly (unless of course a deliberate grammatical mistake is part of the message - not the case here. Perhaps a little over the top but I think media communication has a lot to answer for in the poor use of English today.

Great blog!

Anonymous said...

I will admit to being an advertising copy writer very early in my career. I had a BA in Seventeenth Century English Literature. I could have been fired for my spelling, but my writing skills were lauded. All ad agency writers and artists need a good copy editor. When you are creating that trash or treasure, you can’t be distracted by grammar or spelling. It is always about money and ‘billable hours.’ During my first WSJ job I was spouting glowing press releases for a bunch of crooks-in-suits: only to realize they’d manipulated me and the stock market. I quit in a self-righteous huff. I vowed only to use my ‘skills’ for things I believed in. I know how Edith Ann feels. For me, it was not a noble calling. It was the ’60’s, and I was very idealistic. However, in defense of the ad biz--it is a huge industry that provides a rip tide of jobs—in radio, magazines and television or the people who put glue on posters. Someone older than I, once took the time to tell me this, so I’ll pass it along here. Even the internet that we enjoy is an outgrowth of our capitalistic, free-speech society. Also, I wrote my share of public service spots (PSAs), funded by the Ad Council. Now I’ll end my editorial by adding that corporations do worry about grammar (they now hire in-house teachers). They also fund the Arts and charitable or humanitarian causes. Now, could someone please get me an editor and proofreader? I always overwrite.

Jesi J said...

I'm still cringing over "i'm lovin' it," along with the fact that the apostrophe is being re-engineered by advertisers (and everyone else) to apply to plurals as well as possessives.

Lilli W said...

I e-mailed Tide directly, but they have yet to change their error.
I am boycotting Tide products until clean once again becomes an option.

And if we are talking about ads done without much thought, how do you feel about "enjoy the go" by Charmin? Honestly!!!

Anonymous said...

I don't work for Tide or the ad agency, but every time I see this ad, I feel certain that the original tagline was "Style is subjective. Clean is not." And then someone said "nobody is going to know what 'subjective' means."

Yao said...

I'm actually not a native speaker and still learning English. When I heard that ads on TV, I really started to get confused, since I always thought "not an option" means "not to be considered". Then I started to think may be it can have both meanings. And then I started to wonder how can I tell which meaning it is in a sentence,since they are very two conflicting meanings... I'm really happy to read your blog and learned that I was right. But the Ads sounds so right and so natural, how can something wrong sounds so right? English is confusing...