I wonder how things like deliberately making errors become hip. Two years ago, in contrast, the same New York Times that seems to look kindly on made-up mistakes was rebuking Madison Avenue for being "awash in misspellings."
An ad for Nobody Beats the Wiz praised the consumer electronics retailer for being "emminent" in its field. Apparently, nobody proofs the Wiz either. A magazine ad for the Psychic Friends Network included a description of a caller from "Lancing, Michigan." The psychics can tell us where to find true love or make a bundle, but they don't know the town is spelled Lansing.
At the time, no one thought the errors were cool. Today, the purveyors of made-up mistakes are telling the Times "the young people we're trying to reach will know what it is." But I wonder if they will. A few years ago, Mouth 2 Mouth, a magazine for teens, ran a column called "Words We Hate" that blasted such words as e-z and thru as "flat out lazy." The magazine's columnist, Evie Shapiro (ten to one that was a typo for "Eve") asked "Why do advertisers think that misspellings are such a draw?"
Before the current craze to make up mistakes, I didn't believe advertisers were that deep-thinking. I thought many popular brand names like Reddi-wip and Cheez Doodles were actually typos that nobody caught.
The young people whom advertisers are trying to captivate by making mistakes are much more clever. I recently attended a presentation of sample campaigns by advertising students at the prestigious Art Center for Design in Pasadena. The young students devised a mock campaign for Caterpillar, the large equipment maker, pushing environmental awareness. The students' ads were printed over crossed-out images of other famous ads, such as Calvin Klein and the Marlboro Man, suggesting Caterpillar was so concerned about recycling that it even recycled its ads. Now that's a lot more attention-getting that merely crossing out a word because you can't spell.
More to the point, I wonder whether sloppiness can separate an advertiser from the pack when the pack is already an Animal House of miscues. If God is in the details, we are a nation of atheists.
It's not just advertising. In a survey of 311 executives at Fortune 1000 companies, 13 percent said their names were "sometimes" spelled right by the news media. However, 69 percent said their names were "never" spelled right. Unless the business press has devoted itself entirely to covering Arnold Schwarzenegger, those numbers are hard to explain. It's reached a point that some companies are apologizing for their mistakes in advance. On its envelope flap, the Insurance Value Added Network Services prints this message: "If we made a mistake in your [name, title or address], we are sorry."
People are accustomed to electronic proofreaders checking their words so they don't have to. Ironically, this is making mistakes more common. For instance, computers recently sent me direct mail pitches that combine my first and last name with my downstairs neighbor's name.
Then last week, I got a call from a saleswoman.
"Hello. Is Joe Brown there?"
"Huh? You must have the wrong number."
"Is Joe Mullich there?"
"Gosh, you know I couldn't even read my own handwriting."
The woman's job -- and I swear this is true -- is selling advertising specialty items. Those are products that are imprinted with your company's name. In my case, she didn't make the sale. I have all the Joe Brown mugs I need.
Joe Mullich is a writer in California. His work has appeared in The Los Angeles