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3 of History's Most Expensive Editorial Errors (And How to Avoid Them)

June 6, 2019


Good copy is gold. It has the power to compel, persuade, convince—even sell. Bad copy, meanwhile, can literally drive a company out of business. 


Just take a look at some of history's biggest copywriting mistakes: 


That time the Yellow Pages lost $10 million. 

Banner Travel was a Sonoma, California-based travel agency that wanted to offer reasonable trips to exotic destinations in the late '80s. It took an ad out with the Yellow Pages, but the publication went to print with a typo in the ad. Folks were soon ringing Banner Travel's phone looking for trips to erotic destinations. The Yellow Pages offered to refund the cost of the ad (about $260). Instead of accepting the refund, Banner Travel sued for $10 million—a sum it ultimately won. 


That time the UK government made a successful business go bankrupt. 

In 2009, engineering firm Taylor & Sons Ltd. was celebrating its 124th year in business. The party was short-lived, however. Companies House, the UK agency responsible for maintaining the country's business registrar, erroneously listed the company as bankrupt, when really it was Taylor & Son, a completely different company, that was actually bankrupt. When word got out that Taylor & Sons Ltd. was apparently out of money, it's clients walked away, credit dried up, and suppliers cancelled orders. Not long after, Taylor & Sons Ltd. actually went bankrupt.


That time a missing hyphen cost NASA $80 million. 

NASA relies on mountains of code to get into space. If you've never worked with code before, we'll give you a brief overview: It's fatiguing to look at. Someone at NASA must have been rubbing their eyes in 1962 when they were working on the Mariner 1, a probe designed to explore Venus. It never made it; the probe exploded a few minutes after it left the ground—all because the Mariner 1 code lacked a single hyphen in the speed and trajectory program. Fortunately, no one was injured, but NASA was out $80 million.


Overcoming Common Editorial Errors

All of these (expensive) mistakes could have been prevented with thorough proofreading, but proofreading is no simple task. 


Here's how you can simplify it: 


1. Use fresh eyes. Trust us on this one: You're no good proofreading copy you've worked on all afternoon. Come back later. 


2. Read it aloud. Your ears will help you pick up issues your eyes will miss. 


3. Grab a friend. There's a good chance you have someone on your team who's a grammar ace. Get their help in scrubbing your copy. 


4. Don't rely solely on word processors. Microsoft Word and Grammarly have their place, but they're tools—not proofreading replacements. Both of these programs can make mistakes. 


Of course, you can always call in the pros. Poetica Marketing brings years of editorial room experience to create error-free copy. Contact us to learn how we can make the difference.












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