Villing & Company

Branding with "Style": The AP Rethinks "Web site"

If you happened to be around a newsroom or ad agency on the afternoon of April 16, you may have been surprised by a spontaneous, boisterous round of cheering and applause. The reason: The AP announced it was changing the accepted style of the term "Web site," to "website."

If you witnessed such a display and learned its cause, you probably asked yourself a couple questions: "Seriously, who gets that excited about this type of stuff?" and "Why should I care?"

The first question would take untold years of psychological evaluation to answer. The second question has a two-part answer: The style change has practical, day-to-day applications for every marketer, and also should prompt marketers to examine the brands they represent to keep from finding themselves in an unenviable position.

The most obvious impact of the decision is its affect on day-to-day copywriting. If you're writing something in AP Style, “website” is the correct form as of 3 AM ET on Saturday, April 17. (Yes, they set an exact time.) Frankly, it's important information to have, as few marketing campaigns do not have some reference to a website or other online presence.

But the practical application of the decision is far less important than what it represents. The AP has been in existence since 1846 and is still considered the authority on matters of news writing. As a former journo myself, it is difficult for me to overstate the amount of equity the AP brand had in newsrooms across the country –especially the Stylebook.

However, today's marketing landscape makes it difficult even for brands with a deep-rooted history to remain relevant, especially in an audience increasingly populated by Gen X-ers and Gen Y-ers. As Villing and Company Account Executive Lesley Langfeldt pointed out in an earlier blog, these groups tend to mistrust institutions, or consider them irrelevant. That's a major problem for a brand like the AP when it comes to its Stylebook.

My favorite example of this is the Facebook group, "Dear AP Stylebook, Could You Please Spell 'Web Site' Like a Normal Person?" Here we see not only evidence that a segment of the AP audience considers it irrelevant (at least in matters of proper web verbiage), but also the tools this audience uses to effect change. It used to be that only journalists and marketers wielded the tools to inform and compel an audience to action. Social media has flipped the tables. Now the audience has the tools to inform and compel to action journalists and marketers.

The AP admitted as much in its tweet announcing the change: "Responding to reader input, we are changing Web site to website." That's not to say that this was purely a change driven by social media activity. "Reader input" could mean a variety of things, but it is clear social media was a part of the feedback they cite.

And credit is due to the AP for accepting this "reader input," of course. But the jubilation shown by groups like "Dear AP Stylebook..." shows that the change was long overdue. It shows the AP created a buzz because it finally caught up with the times.

As marketers, we never want our brands to make news because they finally found a degree of relevance. That kind of back-handed publicity will erode credibility and damage positioning efforts immensely. In the current marketing climate, credibility and relevance is increasingly derived from your audience's perception of your future, not your past.

More than ever, consumers have the power to change both the products and services they consume, and the way they're marketed. It could lead to vast improvements in both.

And that would be reason for everyone to cheer.

Filed Under: branding

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