Ever had to sign a hideously long contract that was summed up to you in one sentence by someone eager for you to sign it? Ever wondered why it says so much more than just that one sentence?
I had to work with a client who always insisted to rewrite every piece of copy I presented to him to eliminate any chance of confusion or what he believed to be ‘mistakes’. He begged the agency to fire its entire copy team on multiple occasions claiming that the copywriters weren’t as smart as him. That very same client bought banner ads on msn.com because it’s his boss’s favourite site. To avoid being sued for libel, I will be referring to him as Max Stresselton.
No matter how hard the entire team worked on a piece of content, Max was sure to find a reason to hate it. This dude had a problem for every solution and would even micro-manage how I write his feedback in my notebook telling me to draw a square around a note I made, assuming it’s my system to put emphasis on it. I actually draw squares around notes when I think they could make a funny Facebook post, but…whatever helps him sleep at night, I guess. He didn’t know that I was laughing my ass off deep down, imagining him to be the red evil queen from Alice in Wonderland.
Max Stresselton had a knack for assuming what could go wrong and planning around it. Every comma in the copy had to be carefully examined to ensure nobody has anything to criticise about it. What he subjectively perceived as mistakes, he changed to what he considers to be correct. Needless to say, nobody cared to read his legal statements disguised as ad copy with the help of flowery adjectives and some desperate sounding fluff.
Every time he had to present something to his boss, he looked like he was getting ready to slay the Jabberwocky. He went out to smoke a cigarette in a 50°C temperature and then came back still looking flushed. During the actual presentation, he’d be sweating like a hooker in church and afterwards he’d look like he’s getting ready to run a marathon. It should come as no surprise to you that he had no life outside his office. Just sadness and stress. That’s when I actually felt bad for him, for a nanosecond, till he opened his mouth again and said something obnoxious. That’s when I’d drift off to the safe space in my imagination where I have the ability to turn him into a frog.
The thing is, Max was never asked by his boss to undergo so much pressure. His boss would’ve been happy with version 2 or 3 of the deck, yet Max made the agency endlessly amend the deck going from v2 to v56 and beyond. It had nothing to do with the work not being ‘world-class’ as he liked to call it...whatever that means, he just wanted to look busy while giving himself enough time to think about the deck and make sure he had every angle covered. After the presentation, he always came back with a laundry list of amendments along a feeling of guilt we were responsible for, apparently. Guilt we had to pay back with our personal time and mental health.
Max tried to influence me to write and think like him. He thought he was an example to be followed to ensure ‘world-cl-ASS’ work is being brought-forward. I’m happy to say that I never followed his direction. In fact, I delete anything that sounds like some boring jargon Max would’ve said. I edit my copy to make it funnier and I usually go with my gut feeling. After all, I’m not saving lives with my copy…definitely not with my blog anyway.
There is a huge difference between copywriting and legal writing. Had those contracts been written by copywriters, they probably would’ve been one short, light-hearted paragraph summing up all that’s important. Heck, a copywriter would’ve summed it all up in one word if s/he could. You might’ve even trusted the person asking you to sign them a bit more. But they weren’t written for you to read them. They were written by people like Max Stresselton to assure them that they covered all the angles...so far ;)