You Can’t Always Read the Label from Inside of the Bottle

Coca Cola Ad Mistake

With every company becoming its own best producer of content ranging from Tweets and blogs to ads and billboards, the ability to deliver error-free copy is critical to maintaining a brands reputation, and while only a few readers might catch a grammatical blunder on a corporate advertisement, major errors in ads, corporate websites and point of purchase displays can seriously undermine the credibility of a company brand. A tarnished advertisement, digital or otherwise, will tarnish a company’s image. After all, if a company can’t spell or produce a clean message how can consumers trust them to deliver a quality product?

When Coca Cola was first introduced into China they named it Ke-Kou-Ke-La. Unfortunately, the Coke company did not discover until after thousands of signs had been printed that the phrase means “bite the wax tadpole” or “female horse stuffed with wax”, depending on the dialect. And when Sunmaid printed, “Why not try tossing over your favorite breakfast cereal?” on the side of their boxes of raisins, one could almost excuse the proofreading error and chuckle. To error is human, but when you wear the eraser out before the pencil, your over doing it!

While large mega businesses may have the ability to recover their reputation quickly, it’s small businesses that pay the bigger reputational price for the sloppy writing errors they make. Furthermore the medium really does make a difference. A simple spelling error in the informal environment like Twitter is not a fatal mistake, but make the same error on a billboard or a company ad and a promising career or an emerging business can end abruptly. Using the word “to” instead of “too” can be explained away as a non-functioning spell check program and may be casually excused, but misspelling the company name in a major display advertisement can be fatal to a company’s image and brand. How important is grammar to successful business? Says Brad Hoover, CEO of Grammarly, “Accurate writing is an important way brands can influence public perception. Accurate writing demonstrates professionalism and credibility. Customers are more likely to buy a product or a service from a company they trust.”

But more often, the most damaging error is the error of omission, simply failing to include important information that prospective customers will find critical if they are to become a company’s consumer.  Recently a year-end letter arrived in the mail as part of the annual holiday greeting from a popular gated community of nearly 2000 homes and properties. The content of the letter boasted the number of homes the sender had successfully closed during the year and a brief analysis of the market trends for the community in the coming New Year. It was obvious to the reader that the author was proud of their accomplishments and quite capable in their ability to affect the sale of a significant number of property transfers in the community.

However the letter was received in a blank, white envelope, void of any company or professional identity, business location or even a phone number. It was signed only with the author’s first name. While casual familiarity in closed communities can be desirable in personal service businesses, it is unlikely that even a remote few of the 2000 recipients had even the slightest clue as to the writer’s identity and even more unlikely that any recipient of this particular letter would consider hiring them.

Good, effective writing is a skill-set that is often evasive to even the most successful of professionals and business managers. It is very difficult to read the label from the inside of the bottle. Being too close and too knowledgeable about a subject can lead to costly content omissions in the message. In this age of complex, rapidly advancing communication technology, getting a message across effectively and successfully still begins and ends with who, what , when, and where.

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