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Marketing / Business writing

Can typos be good for business?

There are plenty of horror stories around about how typos have cost businesses thousands of dollars or caused a lot of embarrassment, but are there any times where typos can actually be good for business?

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In 2018, a typo was discovered on Australia’s $50 note. The word responsibility which was part of Edith Cowan’s quote was incorrectly spelled responsibilty not just once, but three times on the new note. Unfortunately 46 million of them were in circulation before a member of the public alerted the Reserve Bank of Australia to the error! Luke Porter, the RBA’s manager of banknote production, didn’t seem too worried about it though. “No one died,” was part of his response according to internal correspondence.

 

But sometimes typos can be more costly than just an embarrassing blunder, such as in the case that author Arthur C. Clarke has dubbed “the most expensive hyphen in history.” In 1962, NASA had to abruptly abort the launch of Mariner 5 less than five minutes after take-off, apparently all due to a missing hyphen in a piece of mathematical code, causing $80 million to go to waste.

You’ve probably got some typo disasters of your own to add to the list, but are there are any situations where typos can be good for business?

Making the most of your mistake

Two years ago global online fashion retailer, ASOS, turned their glaringly obvious typo into a wonderful opportunity to connect with their customers. They owned up to their mistake via Twitter before any of their customers would have even noticed admitting that they “*may* have printed 17,000 bags with a typo.”

 

With over 46,000 likes and 7,000 shares, as well as special requests from customers to receive their clothing order in a “discover fashion onilne” bag, they haven’t done too badly out of it, and the person who made the error is likely to still have a job! They received over 500 comments, many sympathising with them and sharing their own stories.

Intentional typos

Last year Visible, a US digital phone service provider, launched a billboard campaign across Denver. While most ads offered ’unlimited messages, minutes, and data’ there was a handful that promised ‘unlimited massages, minutes, and data’. The apparent ‘typo’ was all part of a marketing ploy to get people talking about it on social media. and that’s exactly what happened. People were quick to point it out and Visible was able to quip back with some witty responses such as “Oops, are we sending mixed massages?” and “But is it a typo? We just think other phone plans make people *tense*.”

They decided to stick to their word and offered free massages for a few hours at Denver’s Union Station. The campaign proved to be a fun and successful way to connect with consumers.

Collector’s items

Typos are often corrected very quickly, sometimes even during the printing process. Because of this, popular books with typos can become rare, making them attractive to collectors. For example, in 1631 around 1,000 copies of the King James Bible were printed with the seventh commandment inadvertently written as ‘Thou shalt commit adultery.’ Missing the word ‘not’ this edition is known as the ‘Wicked Bible’. King Charles I ordered a bonfire and most of them were burnt, but about 11 copies survived. These copies are now worth about $100,000 each!

There have been a few more recent examples too. Last year a rare first-edition, first impression hardcover copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, complete with typos, sold at auction for £28,500 (AU$50,600). But as a general rule, printing errors will only be worth something if the book was rare to begin with. In the case of the Harry Potter book there were only 500 of this particular edition printed, but prior to selling at auction the previous owner had picked it up at a library sale for the bargain price of $1.80.

Everyone makes typos and some are more costly than others. Although there are ways to minimise the damage, or even make money, in most cases it best to avoid typos where you can. It is worth taking the time to proofread your work before hitting the send or publish button!

Lisa Crocker

from Red Pen is an experienced proofreader, editor and website content manager. She has been the Community Manager at Flying Solo for several years. Connect with Lisa on LinkedIn

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