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PROOFING ADVERTISEMENTS

by Simon Lord,
last updated 23/07/2009

in this article:

Advertising provides the life blood for many businesses, so it's important that it says the right things. We provide a light-hearted look at what can go wrong and how to get it right.

Misprints and typographical errors have been with us since the printing press was invented. In 1632, the printer of the famous ‘Wicked Bible' omitted the word ‘not' from the seventh commandment, thereby leaving readers under the impression that ‘thou shalt commit adultery'. Copies of that particular Bible are today worth a small fortune (although one should perhaps not enquire into the buyer's motives too closely), but for the advertiser misprints are not funny.

Most errors are the result of haste rather than ignorance, and despite the rigorous proofing processes that Franchise New Zealand and other professional publishers use, a few will always creep through. No one is immune - not even such a dignified newspaper as the London Times which, on the opening of the Forth Rail Bridge by Queen Victoria in 1890, supposedly reported that ‘the Queen herself graciously pissed over the magnificent edifice'.

How can you stop misprints happening to your own precious advertisement? Fortunately, with a little care and a bit of understanding of the process, it's quite easy.

The details of your advertisement usually arrive on your designer's desk in hand-written form or as a word file or email. Sometimes, the words are helpfully arranged to suggest how the finished advert might look. The designer enters the information on to computer, but he or she is mainly concerned with how the words can be made to communicate their message most effectively in a visual sense, so they might not notice if they've entered ‘or' rather than ‘our', for example - or, if they have copied and pasted from your file, whether you typed it incorrectly in the first place.

When the advert has been designed, a ‘proof' is sent out to you - usually via email these days - for you to check that it's correct. The purpose of this is to check both that the design is what you wanted and that the spelling and the details are correct. If there is an error, now is the time to spot it. But, despite the fact that every advertiser gets a proof and signs it to show that they have checked it, errors still creep through. Why?

The problem is that most people read what they expect to read. The technical term for this is a ‘scotoma', a form of blindness induced by expectation. So if you wrote ‘our' you'll still read the word on the page as ‘our', even if it actually says ‘or'. Like the designer, you're too close to see the mistake. My favourite example of this is a painted sign on the road I saw in the UK which, in letters a metre high, said ‘SOPT' - the signwriter was concentrating on the letters themselves, not the order in which they appeared.

Most people will spot errors in their own telephone numbers - because numbers don't form a word, they are easier to check as you go through character by character. But they often don't spot words. So how do you proof read an advertisement?

  1. Read the whole thing through first of all to make sure that it makes sense.
  2. Get your original copy and check it against that, word by word.
  3. Hand it to someone who hasn't seen the original and ask them to read it.

Involving someone else is always the best idea, as they will not share your expectations. Here are some particular points to look out for:

  • Telephone numbers
  • Email addresses (especially .co.nz, .com or .net addresses)
  • People's names
  • Logos appearing fully
  • Colours
  • Photo captions

Once a proof is accepted by a client, it is the publisher's responsibility to print it exactly as proofed. Most publishers will not check your advertisement themselves, although here at Franchise New Zealand we do try to. If we spot a mistake, we try to correct it if we can or ask for a new file from the designer, but that isn't always possible in the time available. Apart from the obvious ones above, here are a few of the most common errors we see:

  1. Spelling franchise, franchisor or franchisee with a capital ‘F' in a sentence. While lawyers tend to do this in legal agreements, it is not necessary or correct in written English.
  2. Spelling ‘programme' as ‘program'. The latter spelling in New Zealand is only used to denote a computer program or software. A training programme is correctly spelled as ‘programme'.
  3. The word ‘licence' often causes confusion, and understandably so. As a noun, it is spelled ‘licence'. As a verb, it is ‘to license'. You may sell a ‘licence', but businesses sold in this way are  ‘licensed' and those who take up a licence are ‘licensees'. Americans (and many Australians) use ‘license' for both noun and verb but this is incorrect in New Zealand.
  4. The same applies to ‘practice' (noun) and ‘practise' (verb). One would talk about ‘best practice in franchising' but a doctor ‘practises' medicine.
  5. The word ‘its' is often confused. An apostrophe is only ever used when the word is used as an abbreviation for ‘it is'. So "It is a brand new idea" could be abbreviated to "It's a brand new idea", but if you were saying "As an idea its time has come" there would be no apostrophe.

Avoiding all these little errors helps you to present the most professional image possible to your potential enquirers, so it's worth doing. Remember, after you've approved the proof the printing presses start to roll - and the next time you see your advert, perhaps 16,000 copies will have been printed. At that stage, it's too late to spot mistakes!

And let's close with one last story to prove that anyone can make mistakes. A very large, very famous advertising agency sent us an advertisement for one of our clients. This advert had been through all the big agency approval processes, as well as being signed off by the client themselves. It arrived at the last minute, as advertising agency material often does, but we took the time to read it just before sending the file to the printer. It was an impressive piece of work, apart from two small spelling mistakes. One was the word "Zealand" - the other was the client's name. We can all do it...
 

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