On the Campaign couch
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch

Andrew Ingram writes: In a recent writing workshop, we were discussing the front-page content of a PR company’s website. It was about 200 words long and rather vague, talking about outcomes, delivering change, 360-degree reputation management and ‘24/7 accountability commitment’. I thought the delegates would decry it as jargon-laden waffle, but as one of them said: ‘That’s what you would expect to see on the website of a PR company – no-one’s going to actually READ it, are they?’ Right or wrong?

Thanks, Andrew. I wrote recently about magazine ads, costing tens of thousands of pounds and featuring fascinating new cars, whose only copy consisted of a curt instruction to go to the company’s website. Why include copy if no-one’s going to read it?

What’s become increasingly clear is that all those illiterate philistines who claim that nobody reads copy any more have joined together in an evil conspiracy to ensure that nobody does read copy any more by making sure that the little copy they permit to appear is unreadable. Here are just a few of their favourite ploys.

• Since all research confirms that a serif font makes blocks of text more readable, they always use sans serif.
• Rather than display words in an appetising manner, as any decent newspaper would, they form them into an angular shape; so words become no more than a design element subliminally discouraging access.
• Black type on a white background is by far the easiest to read; so they favour reversing out, particularly out of pale grey or lemon yellow, which allows words to disappear altogether.
• When grudgingly allowing a few actual words to sidle into a layout, they ensure that they are banal and unrewarding enough to deter even the most resolute of readers from ever bothering to read copy again.

The internet has had an almost totally negative effect on print. Now that everyone can be a publisher, and at zero cost, it’s no longer thought necessary to use words carefully, evocatively or economically.

Everyone’s a writer and they rattle out the words as fast as their fingers and thumbs allow. Your PR company’s website is not alone. It sometimes seems as if an app exists whereby simply depressing a single key delivers: "GumDropZ Communications delivers across-platform 24/7 accountability outcomes that resonate with multiple demographics on a contextualised basis." There probably is.

Most website designs are hard to navigate, counter-intuitive and extremely ugly. Yet some print designers have become so intimidated by all things digital that you can now find relaunched print titles, once models of clarity and style, that are now hard to navigate, counter-intuitive and extremely ugly. And so besotted with a sans serif typeface reversed out of lemon yellow that they’re unreadable.

So your delegate was absolutely right: no-one’s going to actually read anything any more. Words, possibly chosen by a random word-generator, will be used for the sole purpose of filling up space.

Dear Jeremy, Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua?

Thank you. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum. I hope that helps.

I’m worried that when I go on honeymoon, a predatory creative in our department might steal my creative partner. It’s putting a dampener on my excitement and my fiancée is getting a bit suspicious. What should I do?

If I was your fiancée, I’d drop you immediately: not because I suspected you of two-timing but because of your clearly warped sense of priorities. Why don’t you take your instincts to their natural conclusion and suggest she goes on honeymoon on her own? (To make her feel better about it, give her an expensive new camera and tell her you much look forward to looking at the pictures when she gets back.)

‘Ask Jeremy’, a collection of Jeremy Bullmore’s Campaign columns, is available from Haymarket, priced £10.Telephone (020) 8267 4919
Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Teddington Studios, Broom Road, Teddington, TW11 9BE