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Masters of Obfuscation

A world of sleazy lawyers in cahoots with marketers

February 19, 2013 By Denny Hatch
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A couple of columns ago, I mentioned that I am coming down the home stretch on a new book: "WRITE EVERYTHING RIGHT: Let the world's greatest copywriters show you how to make readers love your emails, letters, memos, blog, ads, white papers, annual reports, PowerPoint, articles, books, website and yes, especially your résumé."

Throughout "WRITE EVERYTHING RIGHT" you will find a slew of tested, proven rules that will make what you write easier for your readers to understand and stay interested.

Suddenly, last week it occurred to me that a legion of writers spend their lives creating stuff that they hope nobody will read.

Mostly these people are lawyers.

In the mediaplayer at the upper right are illustrations of a joint promotion from United Airlines and Chase Bank offering a MileagePlus Visa card.

It arrived with all kinds of promises that were negated by a series of cover-your-arse (CYA) disclaimers.

What you see is a textbook example of how lawyers and complicit marketers can come up with a way to tell customers they can be screwed with absolutely no recourse. The trick: make it so impossibly difficult to comprehend nobody will bother to read the thing.

Most of us receive millions of words a year by these scallywags, who work for manufacturers, marketers, the financial services industry, pharmaceutical companies and the like.

If You Want to Obfuscate, Here Are the Rules to Break
"Set your copy in columns not more than forty characters wide. Most people acquire their reading habits from newspapers, which use columns of about 26 characters. The wider the measure, the fewer the readers." —David Ogilvy

(NOTE: The columns in the UAL-Chase disclaimer are 190 characters wide.)

• "Type smaller than 9-point is difficult for most people to read." -David Ogilvy

(NOTE: The Disclaimer copy above is 7-point.

• On the computer screen, iPad or smartphone, 9-point type is the equivalent to 7-point type or smaller in print.

• "Avoid gray walls of type." —David Ogilvy

• Want to make copy tough to read? Set it in gray type. The lighter the gray the more impossible to read.

• "Serif type in body copy in print is easier to read than sans serif." —David Ogilvy

• Check out "Why Johnny Can't Read" (opens as a PDF) on he evils of sans serif type in print.

 
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COMMENTS

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Most Recent Comments:
W.R. Max Bendel - Posted on February 19, 2013
I have flash player - RealPlayer, but still no media appears in your Masters of Obfuscation article. Thought maybe mine was broken, and I did a fresh download to be sure. Still the same. Nothing. Thought you might like to know.
Click here to view archived comments...
Archived Comments:
W.R. Max Bendel - Posted on February 19, 2013
I have flash player - RealPlayer, but still no media appears in your Masters of Obfuscation article. Thought maybe mine was broken, and I did a fresh download to be sure. Still the same. Nothing. Thought you might like to know.