Is your message a marketing mondegreen?

Merriam Webster has recently added the word “mondegreen” to its pages with the definition “a word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung.” The word was coined by author Sylvia Wright in 1954 when she discovered that she had long misunderstood the lyrics to an old Scottish ballad, “They have slain the Earl Amurray, And Lady Mondegreen.” The true ending of the stanza is “And laid him on the green.”

There are other more contemporary examples such as Jimi Hendrix’ “’scuse me while I kiss this guy” (‘scuse me while I kiss the sky) or Macy Gray’s “I wore goggles when you are not here” (My world crumbles when you are not here). Columnist Jon Carroll of the San Francisco Chronicle has long catalogued more examples on his web site at the link listed below. One of my favorites is Elton John’s “Hold me closer, Tony Danza” (Hold me closer, tiny dancer).

I once received a letter from a mail house that was promoting its services that was clearly part of a mass mailing since it offered no specific information relative to my business. One can argue the merits of whether these types of mailings are effective at building awareness of your company, but the problem with this one was, although my name was on the outside of the envelope, the “personalized” area of the letter inside had the name, company and address of another person.

That was a classic marketing mondegreen. What the mail house said in their letter was that they were experts in all aspects of mailing and fulfillment. What I heard was that they have not mastered the basic skill of matching the name on the inside of the envelope to the one on the outside.

I’ve seen a lot of companies put out marketing materials that are frankly, just awful. When my colleagues and I were paid to print the stuff and not provide feedback, we came up with the acronym NAFT (No Accounting For Taste). My client would get back their piece of dreck and be overjoyed about how great it looked. I don’t know what their clients thought.

Even worse is when a company throws together a “direct marketing” piece that they spend serious money to design, print and mail, only to get little or no results. I am using quotes for “direct marketing” because by definition it should have included a specific, attractive offer and a call to action that coordinates with the company’s business goals. Often these mailings are simply a brochure that goes out in the mail.

Here’s another classic example of a company marketing message. “(Our) personnel have the experience, knowledge, and industry contacts needed to provide you with the best products and service available. Since our founding, our motto has been ‘Where integrity stands for quality, service, and value.’” You may tell that to your clients, but do they have any idea what you really mean? Worse than mishearing, the words really mean nothing so they get ignored.

Make sure what you are saying in your marketing words, images and implementation are clearly stated so there is no misinterpreting of the message. Make it consistent in everything you put out there.

Jamie Bradley
Idea Translator

More mondegreen examples from columnist Jon Carroll

(This article was originally posted July 2008 at my old blog at

With over 30 years of working inside and outside printing, promotional and marketing companies, Jamie Bradley helps clients source and produce great marketing materials. He writes these occasional blogs to share ideas on how to create better and more effective products.

3 Comments on “Is your message a marketing mondegreen?

  1. My Google Alert for “mondegreen” brought me here. I’m involved with a marketing mondegreen different from what you describe.

    I learned the term in late 2007. One thing led to another, and now I’m the administrator of a flaky effort called Mandy Green Project, largely aimed at helping make “mondegreen” a household word. It involves a quirky novel written by MANDY GREEN (yep, a mondegreen of “mondegreen”) whose story centers on a mondegreen (“Gesundheit Whistle” misheard as GAZOON HIGH TWIZZLE). Please check it out and tell all your friends named MANDY GREEN.

    My son Emmett told me the whole effort is hopeless, adding that he hated to be the BEAR OF BAD NEWS.

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