Taking a Hike Plaque and Keeping up with the Jones’

Screen Shot 2013-01-22 at 5.46.23 PMAs it does occasionally, The New York Times in a recent article asked twenty questions about advertising, the media, and popular culture. Here are two questions about ads in 2012 that caught my attention:

  • Do any of the copywriters who crafted the ads for the Crest Pro-Health Clinical Line of oral-care products sold by Procter & Gamble realize that the way they punctuated the headlines, which read “Take a hike plaque, and don’t hurry back,” suggests that consumers ought to get their hands on a “hike plaque,” whatever the heck that might be?

  • Will any English teachers who wear the Jones New York clothing sold by the Jones Group scold the copywriters who came up with the headline “Keeping up with the Jones’ ” for the brand’s ads?

Clearly, the Crest ad is missing an important comma after “hike,” a comma necessitated by the fact that the sentence is addressing plaque, telling it to take a hike. The comma is necessary here just as it would be in a sentence such as, “Go to the office, Bob.” Since this mistake is frequently made in advertising, my guess is that even in an example like this, the writers would not have known that they needed a comma.

The Jones ad leaves one asking, “Keeping up with the Jones’ what?” Clearly the writers meant to say “Joneses,” meaning to not fall behind in the competition to own as many possessions as your neighbors, whose last name is Jones. But by adding the apostrophe instead of the “es,” they made the name possessive, and so it requires an object, such as car, which is, perhaps, speeding down the road, and you are trying to catch up with it. Or maybe it could refer to lifestyle, which would be appropriate in this case, but even then “lifestyle” would have to be added to the sentence, so the reader does not have to guest what it means.

You can read the other 18 questions from the article at http://ow.ly/gJP2A .

An Apostrophe Where It Shouldn’t Be

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What is it about apostrophes that makes people want to insert them into places where they have no business being placed?

I first noticed this sign, “Voted Best Sub’s By Our Customers,” with its glaringly wrong apostrophe several months ago, and have been waiting to see if someone would catch the mistake and correct it.

No one has.

It’s hard to see how the misuse of this apostrophe was overlooked by the owner of the restaurant or the painter of the sign, regardless of their education levels or disinterest in grammar. Could it be that they have never really looked at the sign, or that they simply don’t care? Could it be that not a single customer has mentioned the mistake, or that in hearing about it, the owner just passed the comment off as being unimportant?

Cleaning Ducks

shutterstock_32632351The phone rang the other day. When we picked it up, a computer voice said, “This is Dave from Cleaning Ducks.”

He was calling to see if we wanted our “ducks” cleaned.

Since we don’t have any ducks, and probably wouldn’t want them cleaned, anyway, we hung up.

Come to think of it, we don’t have any chickens, turkeys, or any other kinds of fowl, either. And if we did, I’m sure we’d have a bowl of water big enough for them to clean themselves, if for some reason, they felt they needed to spruce up a bit.

I’m certain Dave, whoever he is, has a legitimate business and makes a good living cleaning air-conditioning and heating ducts in houses around the suburbs. But one has to wonder why—if his business is sophisticated enough to have a computer-calling system—he didn’t take the time to listen to what it said, and to correct the pronunciation of “ducts.”

Ducts—not ducks—are the main focus of his business. Certainly the word should be pronounced correctly.

Photo: Shutterstock/WilleeCole

Are These the World’s 8 Worst Fonts?

Garfield says this is the worst font in the world.

I’ve just run across a long, funny, and informative blog post called “The 8 worst Fonts in the World.” It was published on Fast Company’s Co.Design blog several months ago by Simon Garfield, author of a book about typefaces called Just My Type.

Garfield’s selection of the worst fonts is not based on scientific study but on how he happens to feel about these fonts. It is subjective, and he makes no claim that it is otherwise. These are simply the fonts he dislikes the most.

But from having written his 2010 book on typefaces, Garfield knows something about fonts, their design, and their histories. He knows what makes one typeface look good on the page or screen and how it achieves the designer’s goal. And he knows why other typefaces fail.

In making his selection, he did put some limitations on the fonts he considered for this ranking. For instance, he did not include Comic Sans because most people who know anything about type (and many who don’t) dismiss this typeface as having no merit at all and because “it’s harmless and even benign,” he says.

Likewise, he has left out “the virtually illegible outer-limits fonts,” such as Grassy (that he calls “a type with hair”) and Scrawlz (that he says looks “like writing by a 3- or 103-year-old.”) Including typefaces such as these, he says, would be “just too easy.”

Below is Garfield’s list of the world’s worst fonts. You can see samples of these fonts on his blog post at http://ow.ly/fahy6.

8. Ecofont

Garfield begins the list with his selection of the eighth worst font in the world, Ecofont, which is filled with holes and looks as if it were hit with buckshot. He calls it “the string vest and Swiss Cheese of fonts.”

7. Souvenir

About Souvenir, Garfield quotes one designer asking what the font is a souvenir of and answering his own question with, “A souvenir of every ghastly mistake ever made in type design gathered together . . . .”

6. Gill Sans Light Shadowed

Garfield says that Gill Sans Light Shadowed was “designed to suggest the effect the sun would cast over thin raised letters,” but this effect wears thin in a hurry.

5. Brush Script

Garfield’s fifth worst font has been around since the 1940s, he says, and has been overused on documents like college magazines and menus printed by restaurants “featuring Pear, Blue Cheese and Walnut Salad on a bed of Brush Script.”

4. Papyrus

Designers wanting to give their documents an Egyptian feeling often turn to Papyrus. But most recently, it was called on to help create the other-worldliness of the movie Avatar. Garfield says this highly expensive movie used “the cheapest and least original font it could find.”

3. Neuland Inline

Joining Papyrus as the other “theme park” font on Garfield’s list is Neuland Inline. In the same way Papyrus says “Egypt,” this typeface shouts “Africa.” It can be found, he suggests, on many posters promoting amateur productions of The Lion King.

2. Random Note

This font is supposed to represent letters cut from magazines. But since it doesn’t look very realistic, Random Note is best used for comic effect, Garfield says.

1. The 2012 Olympic Font

The worst font in the world, according to Garfield, is the one designed for the 2012 Olympics in London and known as 2012 Headline. He says that it is “surely the worst new public typeface of the last 100 years.”

I don’t know if these really are the worst fonts in the world, but I can say that I don’t find any of them interesting, and I see no reason to choose them for my projects. Certainly, I don’t use any of them on this blog or in my emails or other documents.

On the Wings of Brand, Marketing and Manufacturing

iPhone 5 photo by Eric Risberg, AP

Apple’s iPhone 5 does not go on sale in stores until Friday, yet the company has already broken records with the number of pre-ordered devices sold through its website. Customers bought out its initial supply in about 60 minutes and then bought more than two million devices in the first 24 hours the iPhone 5 was available online—about twice the number of last year’s iPhone 4s sold in a day, which was itself a record for the company.

Last week people started lining up at some of the company’s stores to be among the first to buy the new phone when the doors open Friday morning. Let me be clear: People were camped out eight days before the device goes on sale at the stores.

Why do people get so excited over yet another model of this smartphone that has looked so much the same since 2007 that most people can’t tell one version from the next?

It’s a combination of Apple’s brand, its marketing expertise, and its manufacturing details.

Few people would doubt that Apple has among the best—if not the very best—brand in the technology industry, a brand that still generates a feeling that the company makes products “for the rest of us,” as it stated many years ago when fighting for its life against all the Microsoft-based computers. That sense of being among the few who feel like an Apple insider and being among the “lucky” who own one of its products still exists—somehow—even though Apple now ranks as the largest U.S. company (measured by stock-market price).

We “lucky ones” must know there’s nothing unique about owning an Apple product; after all, it sold two million of them in 24 hours last week and is expected to sell nearly 50 million in the fourth quarter alone—enough to slightly move the overall U.S. economy forward. This reality sits in the back of our minds, but it can’t override our perception that runs clearly amuck in the front. It’s a lifestyle choice that we have bought in to—like owning a dog or driving a BMW.

That perception, embedded by brand, is driven by marketing and manufacturing.

It’s likely every company that makes cellphones introduced a new model in the past few months. In fact, some companies rushed their products to market just ahead of the iPhone 5 announcement last week, trying to gain some media coverage before being drowned out by reporters and bloggers loudly proclaiming the virtues of the new Apple device.

Yet, it’s unlikely you can name another company that held a major PR event for its new phone—especially one that drew hundreds of top tech reporters and bloggers from around the world, and then put a video of the two-hour event on its website where, one would guess, it was watched (in part or full) by thousands of consumers, and by an untold number of PR and marketing professionals trying to learn how it’s done.

These professionals (who consider such things in hopes of copying their effectiveness) also wonder how such a highly promotional statement as the following could work its magic yet again: “iPhone 5 is the best iPhone yet, the most beautiful product we’ve ever made, and we hope customers love it as much as we do.” This statement is used not only by Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, in the news release announcing the record-breaking pre-orders, but over and over again in the video.

And it works. Consumers believe it every time they hear it.

Then there’s Apple’s focus on trying to make the best product possible, a focus held dearly by Steve Jobs for his entire career (both times at Apple, at Next and at Pixar) and engrained deeply into the culture of the company. Whether Apple succeeds at this goal is debated—sometimes. But by trying, and then telling us and showing us that its trying, Apple goes a long way toward making the goal a reality in the minds and hands of millions of people.

A short iPhone 5 video on Apple’s website shows part of the manufacturing process and repeats language similar to that used in the Apple news release announcing the device: “Designed with an unprecedented level of precision, iPhone 5 combines an anodized aluminum body with diamond cut chamfered edges and glass inlays for a truly incredible fit and finish.”

Watching these edges being cut leaves some viewers amazed at the care put into the phone’s manufacture and leaves them knowing (before they’ve ever held the device) that it will feel like a piece of art in their hands—not a mere appliance on which to make calls and send texts. It increases their urgency to own one, an urgency like that felt by a rare-art collector bidding on a Gauguin or a Monet.

Each of those who have already pre-ordered the iPhone 5, who are now waiting in line to buy it on Friday, or who will be among those to have it before year end—each will feel that the device he/she will soon own will not be just one of millions of copies, but the only one. It will be masterpiece.