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Hateful message no joking matter

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Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2003
 

It was supposed to be a prank. Stupid, yes, but only a prank.

The joke, as you are about to see, backfired badly.

He was a graphic artist working in the North Fayette office of Advo, the nation's largest direct mail marketing company. His job: to help produce the packets of advertisements that regularly clog your mailbox.

A colleague was completing work on a shopping flier for the discount superstore Party City's Hanukkah sale. He waited until the co-worker momentarily left his desk, then changed the ad's text.

Any snickering over the gag he pulled probably ceased last week when the flier turned up in Party City stores and residential mailboxes in suburban Dallas. Across the top of the advertisement, in large, bold, virtually impossible-to-overlook letters was the following:

"CC HATES THE JEWS."

This obviously was not the message Party City wanted to convey to attract customers to its Hanukkah sale. This obviously was not the message Advo wanted to convey to win, or keep, clients.

"We feel terrible, mortified and regretful," Advo spokeswoman Mary Lou Dlugolenski said.

Thousands of the fliers were printed, although Dlugolenski is uncertain how many went to consumers. When the anti-Semitic message finally was spotted by a Party City store manager, Advo pulled the flier from its mailings.

As might be expected, Party City removed all the copies delivered to its stores.

A mistake of this magnitude might be more understandable had it been made by some two-bit marketing concern. But Advo is the U.S. Postal Service's single largest customer; its clients include Wal-Mart, McDonald's and Sears.

So it's understandable why the folks at the Anti-Defamation League are wondering just how this could have happened.

"It is inconceivable that no one at any of the companies involved caught the slur before it went into print," ADL spokeswoman Bettysue Feuer said. "A Hanukkah ad that includes the message 'hates the Jews?' Where's the oversight?"

According to Dlugolenski, the victim of the prank had already signed off on the ad and thus didn't check it when he returned to his desk. She was unable to say why the incendiary language was never noticed during Advo's internal proofing process.

"We are doing a very extensive review to determine how we could have missed this," she said.

Dlugolenski said Party City officials have been "understandably outraged," but have not canceled their contract. The people at Party City declined to comment. They probably were too busy making sure all of the anti-Semitic fliers were out of their stores.

The local prankster, whom Dlugolenski would not identify, "feels very remorseful about this. ... He knows he used very poor judgment." He won't use it again at Advo. The company fired him.

Advo should think twice before filling that position. Instead of hiring another graphic artist, the company should fill a more pressing need and bolster its proofreading staff.

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