Copywriting: fail. Advertising: no discernible loss.

"Today's engineers are solving tomorrow's problems. Are you ready to be one of them?"

I was on the subway on Friday when I saw the advertisement displayed above.

For readers without image support, the tagline is as follows:

Today’s engineers are solving tomorrow’s problems. Are you ready to be one of them?

I took a picture of it and uploaded it to Facebook and Twitpic with the caption “Bet all you B.Eng grads feel pretty proud of yourselves now, huh”, for I thought such a gloriously humorous error had to be shared with everyone.

Unfortunately, some people didn’t get it. What’s worse, some of the people who didn’t get it immediately thought I was mocking engineers.

Let’s look at the tagline of the ad once more:

Today’s engineers are solving tomorrow’s problems. Are you ready to be one of them?


  • We know the ad producer’s intention was to ask “Are you ready to be one of [the engineers]?”.
  • However, “problems” in the first sentence is also a plural noun.
  • Because the word “them” could also refer to “problems”, it’s possible for the second sentence to be read as “Are you ready to be one of [the problems]?”.

In that case, the ad becomes somewhat humorous: is this educational institute actually recruiting people to train them to become problems for engineers to solve?

So I’d rate the copywriting as having failed on this count. However, in terms of advertising, there’s no discernible loss.

Based on the comments I received, only one person made it clear that he understood what I was referring to.

However, the ad isn’t targeting people like us i.e. arts/humanities graduates with little inclination toward an education or a career in engineering or the sciences.

The rest of the comments came from people who majored in engineering, math or science subjects and are also working in related industries.

Their concerns were either to joke about how engineers are in fact ‘fighting fires’ instead of preventing them, or to be defensive about the perceived slight.

Nevertheless, since they didn’t spot the error (or perhaps the error is only a concern to people who are interested in linguistics), I guess the ad will still manage to reach out to its target audience.

Post-script: On hindsight, actually, the biggest failure in terms of communication and humour are actually mine alone.

Sigh. In the future, I shall just stick at doing what I do best i.e. re-tweeting what people are saying about The Weight of Silk on Skin.

Post-post-script: I misread a comment!

A math graduate/teacher just texted me to clarify this interpretation he provided:

This is an ad for BSs and BSc, not BEng. The alternate reading [that B.Ss. and B.Sc. graduates are/will be the bane of engineers] actually makes more sense in light of that fact.

About the author

Laremy Lee

A versatile educator, writer and editor, Laremy Lee (李庭辉) has the uncanny knack of being one of the few among his generation in Singapore who crafts compelling stories in different genres.

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