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BEAUTIFUL, BUT CAN THEY READ IT? WHEREIN A COPYWRITER BEMOANS THOSE TRENDY GRAPHICS

By Published on .

When the envelope ar rived, I tore it open like a five-year old ripping into a Christmas present, knowing it contained samples of my latest project with a Detroit-based agency. It was a brassy, beautiful, big-deal sales brochure for a Fortune 500 corporation. Five colors. Varnish. Die cuts. Money no object. Reeking with class. It should have been the pride of my portfolio.

Instead, it was-not to put too fine a point on it-an unholy mess.

I worked damned hard on that thing, every paragraph a labor of love.

And there it was: all my careful sculpted words, passages so persuasive they should have made the product nearly irresistible. Instead they would probably go unnoticed, unheralded, and the product unpurchased. Eight-point subheads running between the lines of body copy, jarring the attention and intruding into an illegible mess of letter-spaced 10 points Cochin. Italic. The whole bloody thing, every syllable of the text, in italic. Very trendy. Very hot. Very much impossible to read.

It actually hurt the eyes to look at this stuff. For all practical purposes, this big-bucks project-theproduct of so much effort-was lost.

It wasn't the first time. And-here's the rub-you can bet it won't be the last.

This episode reminded me of how years ago, my then employer's type specialist/project manager came into my office waving pages of copy. Turns out it was about two paragraphs too long for the final design. His suggestion, offered in all seriousness: Why don't we just take out every other word?

Make no mistake, I'm not one of those Luddites, those stodges, those purists who insist that every piece of print should be done in 12 point Times Roman, preferably black on white. Although that's not such a bad idea.

Granted, we're moving more and more to a visual culture. But we still communicate largely through words, even if they're only a few words. What is the product? What does it do? What makes it special? What makes it better? Where can I find it? Why should I want it? Once you're out of the realm of jeans, perfume and lipstick, those are questions that must be answered. In words.

I once thought of making a sign for the office of every designer I know: Words are not the enemy.

To that I would add: Neither are they just "a graphic element."

Take if from this writer, trendy, heedless type styles are the enemy. And the object of advertising, old fashioned as it sounds, is still to get attention and get the message across.M

Ms. Fitzgerald operates her own advertising and business communications service in Ann Arbor, Mich.

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