By Jaclyn McRae
What do Woolworths, NAB, Heinz, CrownBet and Sanitarium have in common?
Aside from making truckloads of cash, they’re among a swag of companies spending money on advertising let down by basic grammatical errors.
The mistakes I’ve noticed in recent TV commercials tend to fall into two categories.
– Using ‘people that’ instead of ‘people who’
– Substituting ‘less than’ for ‘fewer than’.
Both errors are becoming increasingly popular as rushed and imperfect social-media-speak dampens our appetite for perfect prose.
‘Less than’ versus ‘fewer than’ regularly stumps people (and corporations’ marketing departments, apparently), as these examples show. Many people are surprised to learn the two aren’t interchangeable. (See below to learn the difference.)
Here are a few slip-ups I’ve noticed in recent TV commercials:
Woolworths (promoting Coca-Cola Life)
“So when we heard Coca-Cola Life wanted to surprise those Aussies that are up as early as we are…”
“We lend more to Australian business than any other bank, because our lending commitment is all about more ‘yes’ and less missed opportunities.”
(*Disclaimer: This is an extension of NAB’s long-running More this/Less that campaign. It works fine in the case of More ATMS/Less queuing at the bank, but it doesn’t carry over well in this case.)
“For kids that are full of beans.”
“If your team loses by 18 points or less, you’ll receive a matched bonus bet up to $50.”
“In a nutshell, less overheads for us equals more savings for you.”
So Good almond milk (Sanitarium)
“30% less calories than lite milk.”
So, is it less than or fewer than?
Fewer than refers to numbers (something you can count – generally individual items)
I worked for fewer hours than Matt.
Less than refers to quantity
I worked for less time than Matt.
Fairfax’s style guide provides a good example: “It is fewer than 80 children, fewer than 100 protesters, less than 100 litres of petrol, more than 10 kilograms of butter.”