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In advertising, to err is human

January 08, 2020 12:50 IST

'The advertising business, methinks, needs to tone down a bit. Take control of itself, and its emotions,' advises adguru Sandeep Goyal.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/

There was a lot of hullabaloo about an Uber ad that had mistakes in the headline and spelling errors in body copy. Lots of nasty remarks were posted on social media.

First Ogilvy, the Uber agency, was targeted. And roasted. When they issued a denial saying the ad was not theirs, the mud-slinging kind of eased somewhat.

So now, with Ogilvy out of the frame, it looked as if the client had done the creatives in-house (or done them through a small agency/freelancer) and managed a self-goal.

After 35 years in the business, I sat back, and thought to myself: 'Why so much criticism? Why such self-flagellation? Why such nasty remarks about peers? Aren't we all human? Anyone can make a mistake. Sure the mistake has costs, and maybe has repercussions. But is an inadvertent mistake, an honest error, enough to trigger an avalanche of such nastiness and negativity? Does the advertising industry over-react?'

Back to Uber. The taxi-hailing company ran ads in Delhi and Mumbai (perhaps other cities) too.

The headline in Delhi ran something like this ... 'Planning to head out of the Delhi?' The mistake of adding a 'the' before Delhi got Twitter heated up, and in knots, in no time.

Also, in the body copy 'anywhere' and 'anytime' were written as single words. While the singular/combined usage in 'anywhere' was debatable, the 'anytime' should have been two separate words for sure.

In the Mumbai ad, the name of a destination was wrongly spelt. An extra 'i' was added to Bhimashankar, one of the destinations. Hell broke loose on social media.


My personal opinion is that the original Delhi headline perhaps was meant to say, 'Planning to head out of the Delhi smog?' or may be Delhi pollution.

Somebody senior at the client end must have felt that the use of words like 'smog' or 'pollution' may not be politically incorrect. A last minute chopping of the undesirable word must have been ordered.

In the haste to catch the newspaper deadline, the offending 'the' which too should have been removed, was not deleted.

Sh*t happens!

I have seen worse. Almost 25 years ago, I ran a new helpline number ad for Lufthansa in Mumbai. Front page solus. Big bold telephone number upfront. And, we managed to get the number wrong! Don't ask me how.

The client had seen the artwork; the copywriter had checked and signed the material. Yet somehow the mistake happened.

The wrong number was incessantly ringing at the home of an old Parsi lady, driving her nuts. It was an MTNL number, and it took us half a day to get it disconnected.

Another half day to double check the originally allotted number. Getting space... that too front page solus... in the newspaper the next day was another nightmare.

In all this, the client did not once fly off the handle. Nor was there any social media those days to deride us or mock us.

I just went the next day to the Parsi lady's home with a box of chocolates, and apologised. She was most gracious, and understanding. Period.

Way back in the early 1990s when Star TV used to uplink from Hong Kong, we had a new packaging change commercial running during Christmas-New Year for Fujifilm.

That was also the time of the year when Star would shut all commercial operations and the uplinking would be on auto.

Well, our 'new' commercial went on air, but somehow it was the wrong tape that was getting broadcast! And as I said, Star was all but shut for holidays.

It took us three days of fire-fighting across the globe to get the right material to run. In all the chaos, the client in Japan maintained a stoic silence, and in fact sent me a 'thank-you' message once the error had been rectified.

The advertising business, methinks, needs to tone down a bit. Take control of itself, and its emotions.

Controversy on every small little issue signals an industry either unsure of itself, or a fraternity that is needlessly uptight and too self-righteous.

A good laugh, some good-natured banter on the Uber ad was all that was merited. Not the ugly, derisive comments that flooded the social media after the headline debacle.

If advertising practitioners and pundits do need to get themselves into a rage in 2020, there are a lot more pertinent issues than inadvertent mistakes that ought to get them worked up... puffery, plagiarism, puerility... perennial problems that advertising has faced, but never really confronted. Or addressed. Or solved.

The lessons to be learnt from the Uber debacle are simply that 1. To err is human; 2. No one is infallible. Tomorrow it could be you; 3. Grin and bear it. Forgive and forget; 4. Tomorrow is another day.

Sandeep Goyal
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