We all make typos don’t we? Of course we do, because we bloggers are human and proofreaders are luxuries. Nevertheless, they’re so annoying, the way they play hide and seek, like little germs, taking refuge in our blogposts till we hit the big blue ‘Publish’ button, after which point they come crawling out of the words waving and smiling – “COOO-EEEE, you missed me,” they seem to shout. So we click ‘Edit’, and one by painful one, find them amongst our perfectly spelled words, and we root them out like weeds in a flowery garden.
I sometimes like to think we bloggers don’t actually make typos, or typographic errors to give them their full moniker; they make themselves, they appear when you turn away from your screen; like the Schrodinger’s Cats of the blogosphere, they don’t exist until they are observed, and there, amongst the characters, they loiter, trying to camouflage amongst perfect spelling, hoping you’ll glance over them. If you see them, you might well let out a small huff and blame yourself, leaving you feeling incompetent – it’s a little mind trick they like to play on us. We’ve all been there.
Typos come with varying levels of mischief:
- One strain of typo breeds between the letters of perfectly spelled wordes and there they grow and emerge when you look away and least expecit therm.
- Another strain of typo eats away at perfectly spelled words and leaves them one leter shrt of perfecton.
- Then there’s a type of typo that morphs in to another word that can’t be picked up bye a spell cheque.
- The final strain of typo simply gets characters to swap their places with each other, like a sort of alpha-numeric swinger party. This is usually the least harmful variant of typo, because even when misspelled, the words are still cabpale of bineg raed adn sltil crary maeinng.
A few years ago, I failed to spot a typo; this particular one, was vindictive and vengeful; it got me bad, I mean real bad; I nearly lost my job and very nearly dragged a well-known fashion brand in to a scandal that could have made the front pages.
This is the true story of what happened…
I was the Marketing Campaigns Manager for a women’s fashion brand based in Soho in London. The brand was a conservative, well-known, high-street label, with a range of patterned skirts and tops, nothing too sexy or showy; its skirt lengths were long; its plunge tops didn’t plunge that much and necklines ended … well, at the neck.
Unbeknown to me, a mischievous typo decided to grow in a phone number printed in the home shopping catalogue making it in to a wrong number.
Despite having proofreaders and editors, we printed the wrong phone number on one million, glossy, full-colour, perfect-bound mail-order fashion catalogues and mailed them out to the world and left them in 800 stores for customers to take home with their shopping.
It wouldn’t have been half as bad if it was just a wrong number that didn’t dial anywhere. The wrong number was the right number for the wrong sort of person.
On campaign launch day I had just bought a sandwich and was eating it at my desk when the phone rang. It was Diane who managed the call centre in Leeds.
“We’ve got a problem.” She sounded flustered, not her usual calm Yorkshire tone. “Some customers have called in complaining … it’s about the phone numbers in the catalogue … on some of the pages they’re wrong.”
It was the marketer’s worst nightmare: a wrong phone number mailed to a million people.
“But it gets worse,” she added and I wondered how it could. “It diverts to another company.”
“Not to a competitor is it?”
“No, it’s worse than that.” There was a pause as Diane struggled to find the words. “It’s hard to explain. Look, why don’t you dial it yourself.”
I rushed to our design studio and grabbed a folder of laminated copies of the mail order catalogues that we had signed off and flicked to the offending pages; I dialled the number; it clicked a few times and then I heard a recording of a deep and husky female voice.
“Welcome to Luscious Linda’s Loveline. This call costs £2 a minute. Please hold on to be transferred to Luscious Linda who can’t wait to speak to you…”
I was horrified; a grey mist descended on me; a hot rush rose from my chest and went up the sides of my neck; a lump grew in my throat; if this news got out to any of the big marketing magazines it was going to hit the front page for sure. My career would be consigned to the dustbin of history having dragged the good name of our conservative and sensible brand of quality women’s fashion through the mud. I could picture the headlines line-dancing letters in front of me: “High Street Fashion Sex Line Scandal Exposed.” My immortality in the annals of great marketing bloopers of all time was virtually guaranteed.
A woman on the line said “hello?” It was Luscious Linda. She told me she was wearing a satin negligee and asked me what I was doing. I told her I was trying to eat a ploughman lunch sandwich and was about to make a cup of tea till a spot of bother emerged. I wished her a good day and put the phone down.
I went to see my boss, the calm and wise Managing Director of the Home Shopping Department of the fashion brand. Like a guilty schoolboy handing over a stolen gobstopper I entered his room and explained the situation.
He dialled the number, stroked his moustache as he often did when he pondered deeply; the seductive and dulcet voice of Luscious Linda answered him at the rate of £2 a minute. The gravitas of our predicament became apparent in its full nightmarish scenario.
We analysed the problem clinically with numbers, like business people do and forecast that about 4,000 of our customers stood a chance of dialling the naughty number. We came to a decision: the risk was too great. Any single call could have resulted in negative press, damage to a carefully nurtured brand and the derisive laughter from competitors’ boardrooms. Worst of all the phone call from Anne Robinson, the TV consumer affairs show host, loomed (“I suppose you think that’s funny do you Mr Loons?”).
There was only one way around it; we couldn’t recall the million catalogues for they were already out there. I contacted the owner of the Luscious Linda’s phone line and managed to rent the number and redirect it to to our call centre for a hefty £15,000 for three months. Considering what could have happened it was a very small price to pay.
Embarrassment was avoided; national shame averted; my potential legacy as the “guy who did the sex line” never materialised; we checked the phone numbers like hawks on future catalogues and never made proof-reading errors ever again. On a personal level I was still employable, my career had been pulled back from the edge of a cliff and no one, except my boss, my closest colleagues and confidantes ever found out. Until now.
Post script: Please excuse any typos in the above post; these will materialise and be removed after I hit ‘Publish’.