Barely a day goes by that I don’t see a hastily printed sheet taped to the front door of a supermarket or a department store with an errata: “The widget advertised for $9.95 is actually $99.95.” Has the profession of proofreaders gone the way of aleconners and fellmongers? A recent media controversy over the time Americans spend on Facebook could have easily been defused by some judicious proofreading. Email marketers should learn from the serious mistakes made: Accuracy must be first and foremost in all of your brand communications!

An Equivalent Mistake to Reporting Only 5,800 People Watched the Super Bowl?

Global media outlets recently reported that a leading research firm had discovered American web surfers are spending more time on Facebook than on Google’s sites. According to the reports, the research firm found that in a recent month, 41.1 million minutes were spent on Facebook, versus Google’s 39.8 million minutes.

(Editor’s note: Recent searches have found that some media outlets are now reporting the numbers as billions and others as millions – quite the difference!)

Those figures didn’t add up for me: The Facebook statistics page claims “People spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook.” That’s a claim that is 17,000 times larger than the research findings! When we do the math, we find that in order for the reported numbers attributed to the researchers’ statistics to be correct, Facebook’s 167 million US users would have to access the site just 14.8 seconds per month, or less than half a second per day: Not enough time to even load a single page!

If AC Nielsen had made a similar discrepancy when determining the television ratings of the last Super Bowl, it would have shown that instead of 98.7 million viewers, only 5,800 people had tuned in! At the time of writing it was unclear if there was an error by the research firm, the major media outlets or the smaller media sites reporting the number as billions. But the determination of online audience ratings can affect the expenditure of billions of dollars in advertising revenue thus endangering the researchers’ reputation; and if the major media can’t get basic common sense numbers right, how can we trust them?

Viral Marketing Can Give the Marketer a Viral Infection

The unintended effects of viral marketing can give the marketer a nasty viral infection. Chevrolet ran a promo on NBC’s The Apprentice that allowed viewers to upload their own faux commercials for the Tahoe SUV. Unfortunately, many of these YouTube uploads were savagely critical parodies of the gas guzzling monster truck.

When Honda introduced the Crosstour, it placed a sneak advance preview of the car on their Facebook page. Their “wall” was soon covered with derogatory comments about the car’s fundamental ugliness, and to add insult to injury, it was soon discovered that the one commenter posting positive comments was Honda’s product manager.

Rentokil issued a press release, which some scientists disagreed with. As the company was barraged with questions, they responded with total Twitter silence: Completely the wrong approach in our social marketing conversation age.

Kraft Printed 10,000 Unintended Winning Tickets for a Dodge Caravan

Errors and misjudgments can leave a brand with more than egg on its face, it can also lead to bankruptcy. Hoover offered two plane tickets to anyone buying a $150 vacuum… a loss of almost $1,000 per vacuum: the company had to be sold at a fire sale price after losing almost $100 million in court cases. KFC discussed an online coupon on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and within hours, so many were presented that the franchisees ran out of chicken and faced angry (and hungry) coupon waving mobs. One of the most memorable “oops” major brand moments occurred when Kraft recently printed 10,000 more winning sweepstakes tickets than they had intended, leaving thousands of people demanding their prize: A new Dodge Caravan.

The Slightest Error Could Be a Nuclear Mushroom Cloud over Your Brand

These fiascos bear a powerful lesson for email marketers. You cannot possibly confirm and re-confirm the information you place on your emails enough. Every single word has to be audited and verified before you push the button. Don’t ever overlook or underestimate the value of meticulous proofreading. The slightest error could mushroom into a nuclear cloud over your brand.