Skrip - tyur' - i - ent: adj. Possessing the violent desire to write.


#125 In which our hero quits his job (part III).

The saga continues.

Thing #2: The Work

Once again, I knew going in that I would be writing junk mail. And I didn’t have a problem with that. Or so I thought.

I have a stock answer anytime someone questions the veracity of an advertising strategy: I’m not a journalist. And I firmly believe that. Journalists are bound to report the facts without embellishment or exaggeration. Advertisers aren’t bound by the same rules. We're allowed, even expected, to twist the facts and present whatever we're selling in the best possible light. If a client’s tire reduces road noise by 46%, I’ll write, “Reduces road noise by nearly 50%!” While I’ve never (knowingly) written a complete fabrication in my advertising copy, I’ve sure come close. And that’s okay. That’s the business.

See, all advertisers are liars. Bar none. The only difference is in the magnitude of the lie. Look at 7-Up’s new positioning: “Now 100% Natural.” That sounds great until you read the side of the can and discover that the second ingredient is high fructose corn syrup. Sure, HFCS comes from a natural ingredient (corn) but it’s one of the most highly-processed ingredients in food today, and has been linked to diabetes, childhood obesity and other non-desirable conditions. Or look at Nike: they’re telling you (albeit in a subtle manner) that if you wear their sneakers you’ll be a better athlete. Viking wants you to think that you’ll be a better cook if you use their ranges. Small lies, maybe, but still lies.

So I jumped in with nary a care about what BS I’d be asked to shovel to an unsuspecting public. But there was only one problem. There was no BS to shovel.

See, my boss had only started this copywriting company a couple years pervious with one experienced DM writer. This guy left to do his own thing and my boss waited several months before he hired a new writer (me). During this time his client base had pretty much dried up.

But, as the weeks turned into months the work picked up (slightly) and I finally got my hands wet. And while I did some decent work there (I think one of the pieces even found its way into my portfolio) most of it was stuff I wasn’t exactly proud of.

We had one client who seemed to traffic exclusively in products to help guys get laid. Dating manuals, hypnotism, tapes, pheromones. His only direction to me was that the stuff “has to be sexy!!!” Round after round of revisions would come back with, “Not sexy enough!!” At one point, he sent me an email that said, “The reader should be able to move from one sexy paragraph to another like they are greased!!”

Like they are greased.

But, it was the job and I wrote it, y’know? What was I going to do? And here’s the thing: I don’t have a problem with marketing to dumb people. If you really think this pheromone-infused cologne is going to make women flock to you, then maybe you deserve to be parted with your $12. Or better yet, maybe using this stuff will give you the self-confidence to actually speak to a woman, and you can give all the credit to “SexSmell 5000” (not the real product name -- the real name was worse).

So I wrote crap like that, and it was fine. I mostly laughed at the offers, took a shower to wash off the slime at night and slept just fine. Until I got the job for a “sweepstakes report.”

If you’re not familiar (and why the hell would you be?) a sweepstakes report is a listing of a bunch of second chance/no purchase necessary contests you can enter. The idea is that you could search the newspapers/stores/Internet for all these contests yourself, or you could pay a guy $20 (or whatever) and he’d send you a list of the big ones so you could enter at your leisure. So far, so good.

But the problem was that our particular guy didn’t present himself as a convenient service provider; he positioned his mailings like you were actually entering a big-money sweepstakes. On the front of the letter in giant letters it said, “You Can Win $1.5 Million in Cash & Prizes!” All you need to do is send in your $20 and your “$1.5 Million Cash Report” would be sent out -- guaranteed! And here's where I have a problem.

If you didn’t read the fine print carefully… hell, even if you did read it carefully, it was so convoluted and deceptive that it would be very hard to suss out what you were really buying for your twenty bucks. And it was written this way for a reason: to trick you.

Now, you might say that the other junk mail I wrote was the same sort of thing, but I argue that it was different. If you sent away for the miracle weight loss scale, you really got a scale in the mail. Was it worth $50? Fuck no -- it was worth $5 and the guy selling it made $30 profit after postage and shipping. But the point is you really got a scale.

The sweepstakes report is different. See, they get the $1.5MM payout amount by combining all the grand prizes of the listed contests. So, if you entered EVERY contest listed, and won the GRAND PRIZE of every contest listed, you’d pocket the $1.9MM. I don’t have to tell you that the odds of that actually happening were as slim as me making a career out of writing shit like this.

That was the one job that really made me stop and say, “Ah man, this is shitty. All of this… really, really shitty.”

When I told my boss how terrible I thought the piece was, he replied, “Well, it must work!”

Which was the final straw to prompt me to say, “You know what doesn’t work? Me, here any more.”

To be concluded.


Blogger Lil Kate said...

Good for you for having some integrity. I agree, if people are dumb enough to fall for the over-hyped products, but actually receive a product, that's fine. But blatantly tricking people isn't right. I'm glad that you quit that job.

1:53 PM

Blogger craig said...

Integrity? I don't know... it's not like I refused to write the letter. But the client didn't like the letter I did write. It probably came through in the writing that I held my nose while I did it. But yeah, I couldn't be happier that I don't work there any more.

11:37 AM


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