Masters of Obfuscation
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
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.