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Monday, 4 March 2013

For PR's Sake, Think Like a Publisher and Employ Editing Skills

I was astonished to see various reports that Amazon had been selling T-shirts emblazoned with the message: Keep Calm and Rape Them.

Also on sale was:
Keep Calm and Knife Her 
Keep Calm and Hit Her
Keep Calm and Choke Her 
Keep Calm and Grope On

The T-shirts are an adaptation of the popular revived and oft tweaked World War II poster slogan: Keep Calm and Carry On. The offending T-shirts were made by the unfortunately-named Massachussets-based company, Solid Gold Bomb. Given their extensive apology, the company would probably be the first to admit that they have indeed bombed (in the sense of having done really poorly as opposed to the more recent slang meaning which is currently the opposite) with this one. The company has since withdrawn them and apologised, but it was their (long) explanation which you can read for yourself here that I found really gob-smacking.

Apparently the slogans were part of a computer generated series of Keep Calm and ... parodies.
Their apology says:

"The ultimate file-list generated created the base data and the core of the problem was certainly the fact that certain words both individually and in combination were or became offensive. This was culled from 202k words to around 1100 and ultimately slightly more than 700 were used due to character length and the fact that I wanted to closely reflect the appearance of the original slogan graphically."

To me, this raises more questions than answers because, according to the above, the list was twice culled. Even if the lists were not manually culled (I have no idea whether they were or not - it sounds as if they were just checked for their visual appeal by character length), by the time they got down to 1100 and certainly at 700, surely it is not particularly difficult to get a responsible thinking person (for example, an experienced editor) to manually check for aberrant meanings?

As a former editor, I find it is second nature to check material before posting, and to double check before expensive printing compounds an error. As a human being, I can't say that I am totally 100% perfect, but I think most experienced editors would manage to spot five offensive slogans in a list of 700.

They don't say if the computer generated slogans also led to a linked computer generated Amazon ad, or if the pictures of the tee-shirts were also automatically produced. Seems to me that, the more you rely on automation to produce and advertise anything involving words, the more reason there is to have an experienced human back-stop as a final check on the wording.

Words are devilishly slippery little things, and it's very easy to fall foul of them.

Good on fellow Edinburgh PR, Donna McGrory for actively raising awareness of the T-shirts on Twitter.

 PR blog posted by Penny Haywood Calder at PHPR Ltd, Edinburgh, UK. URL: PHPR TV Channel on YouTube: PHPR Ltd on LinkedIn Follow PennyHaywood on Twitter

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