I strongly advise against employing billboards to teach you proper English grammar and spelling, but you can certainly use them to learn what not to do. Here are some pain-inducing billboard boo-boos:
1. “Are you in or out?”
This tagline from the remake of Ocean’s Eleven won’t strike many people as erroneous, but the omission of a comma ruins the effect for me. Read as is, this sentence calls for upward inflection: Are you one of these? But the inflection should fall, and whether your voice catches instantaneously before your pitch falls after in or you don’t actually pause, a comma signals the difference: Are you this, or are you that?
2. “All day, everyday.”
This error in an advertisement for a major chain supermarket went viral some years ago, and the English language hasn’t been able to shake the bug since. Make everyday two words, and call me in the morning.
3. “Name’s Mel-care to have a drink?”
This confused come-on appeared in an advertisement for Tanqueray gin featuring a comely woman inviting the billboard viewer to join her for a cocktail. With a disregard for the visual esthetics of language endemic to the marketing industry, the copywriter puzzled readers with what appeared to be a non sequitur reference in a liquor ad to a variant of Medicare known as Mel-care.
By separating Mel’s introduction from her invitation with a mere hyphen when a mighty em dash was called for (“Name’s Mel — care to have a drink?”), this multimillion-dollar ad campaign cried out for a pocket-change fix. The ubiquitous unwitting use of hyphens in place of dashes is wrong, but, almost worse, it’s ugly.
4. “You provide the truck. We’ll bring the barbeque.”
An ad for a pickup truck big enough to haul around an oil-barrel barbecue grill misspelled the last word. “But, Mark, we see it like that all the time!” Yes, you see it misspelled all the time. It’s an understandable error, extending from the slang abbreviation BBQ, and it may end up in the dictionary someday. But it’s not there yet. Honor the language.
5. “Don’t stare, you might miss your exit.”
Come on, a comma is too weak to convey the cadence of this sentence. (It didn’t work in that sentence, either, did it?) There’s a definite break in the two parts of this sentence, and the rhythm cries out for an em dash or even a period after stare.
Again, as in the first and third examples, the copywriter failed to use the nuances of punctuation to help upload the desire to buy a product or use a service to the consumer’s brain.
This message is brought to you by DailyWritingTips.com: When you seek to sell, consider not only words but also punctuation in the sell’s structure.