Thinking / The Proof Is in the Proofing

The Proof Is in the Proofing

Picture this: You pick up a T-shirt in a popular clothing store and see that it has a well-known Thomas Edison quote on it, the one about genius being 99% perspiration – except that the shirt says “genious.” Or maybe you’re interested in a particular politician, so you decide to download his iPhone® app to learn more about him. When you open it up, you’re greeted with this all-caps message: “A BETTER AMERCIA!” Yikes.

These are two actual, fairly recent examples* of typos that should have been obvious, but somehow made it all the way through to the consumer. Of course, mistakes happen, but when no one catches those mistakes before the consumer, it can reflect terribly on a brand.

Consumers form impressions of brands in a variety of ways, says Marcus Thomas Partner and Director of Research Jennifer Hirt-Marchand: “If you’re trying to build a brand with a particular image, associated with particular, positive things, having a typo or poor grammar really decreases the likelihood of those associations being created.

“People are, in my opinion, a lot more likely to associate a brand with sloppiness and lack of caring if it seems like they just don’t care enough to put in the time to proof,” Hirt-Marchand says.

Sometimes, the general consensus can seem like, Why bother? If I can understand what you’re trying to say, spelling and punctuation aren’t all that important. The problem with this argument is that it ignores the entire purpose of grammar and punctuation, which is not only to communicate, but to communicate correctly.

So when Harry Potter and Powerpuff Girls computer games were advertised with the slogan, “So fun, they won’t even know their learning,” were the software creators communicating that these games involved fun and learning? Without a doubt. Unfortunately for them, they were also communicating their inability to distinguish “they’re” from “their” – not exactly the best look for a product touting its ability to teach children.

Ironic errors like this can turn interested customers away. A 2014 survey by Standing Dog Interactive revealed 58% of consumers were either “somewhat” or “very” annoyed by finding copy errors on a brand’s website or in-store; one respondent stated, “If … I see a typo, I’ll leave without buying a thing.”  

Big-name (and big-revenue) companies are not immune to these mistakes, either. The examples are numerous, and they range from perplexing (Victoria’s Secret randomly throwing an apostrophe in a campaign tagline: “You’ve never seen body’s like this!”) to straight-up hilarious (a Las Vegas Days Inn advertising “Free Wife” [WiFi], along with their indoor pool and hot tub).

But why do these errors persist? Is it because, as some believe, we’ve all become lazy and dull thanks to our near-constant texting and social media habits? Or is it because many of today’s standardized test-driven curricula don’t have the time to teach more than rudimentary grammar – if that – to students?

At Marcus Thomas, we have two full-time proofreaders on staff. They’re responsible for reading and editing nearly everything that leaves the agency: billboard ads, PowerPoint presentations, press releases, lawn-and-garden catalogs, social media posts, banner ads – you name it, they probably proofread it. And there’s a lot to remember. Not only do we have Marcus Thomas “house” rules (based on AP style), but each client also has specific guidelines and regulations we must adhere to. (Or is it, “To which we must adhere?") (Fun fact: only three Marcus Thomas clients use the serial comma.)

Proofreading is the last line of defense between the content our agency creates and the outside world – why bother ensuring every other last detail is perfect (e.g., message, font, imagery, etc.), if spelling and grammar are ignored? Clients can feel like they don’t matter as much to an agency when they receive work with subpar grammar and punctuation. As Jennifer Hirt-Marchand puts it, they may wonder, “Am I just a little client in your big pond? Maybe I need to put my business somewhere else where I’m more important because they take the time to provide me with deliverables that have been proofed.”

One Marcus Thomas employee recalls a particularly embarrassing incident. She was relatively new to the agency and presenting to a major healthcare network, one of the agency’s biggest clients. Early in her presentation, she came to a bullet point that should have started with the verb “assess.” However, as you might have guessed, the last ‘s’ was left off the word — making it not only wrong, but also unintentionally ridiculous. To this day, the employee remembers feeling she’d lost control of her audience, and worse, as though they viewed her (and by extension, the agency) as unprofessional. Thankfully, the quality of work outshone the typo, and the employee successfully rebuilt confidence with the client.

The best way to sum up how agencies and brands should approach proofreading? When in doubt, proofread. When not in doubt, proofread anyway – or ask someone else to do it!

*Mitt Romney iPhone App, 2012; H&M T-Shirt, 2015


So maybe you’re thinking you’re pretty good at this grammar thing and that you don’t need proofreading assistance. Let’s see if you can pass this little test. Read the paragraph below and see if you can find all of the errors.

It’s true that proofreaders often get a bad wrap. People tend to think of us as stuffy librarians or, even worse straight laced rule abiders who don’t know how to have fun. (That is absolutely, 100% false.) While there may be a few bad apples out there; most proofreaders I know are passionate, detail-orientated team players. Our job is to make you look good (and, OK, too play with words, too). Errors in spelling, grammar and punctuation can really effect a client’s perception of our professionalism, so we do our best to assure no such errors find there way out the door. We genuinely love language, and helping people make they’re work the best it can be bring us a special kind if happiness. So don’t hesitate the next time you have word-related question – make a proofreader happy and ask!

Think you got them all? Click here to see the answers.