Five steps to rubbish content

Tom Albrighton

ABC Copywriting


We hear a lot about the value of high-quality content. But what if you want some really bad text? Just follow this handy five-stage guide.

Defining the brief

Ideally, you’ll want to ask your copywriter to ‘just do it’ without any brief at all. The less indication you can give about the purpose, target audience and likely design format of your content, the better.

Unfortunately, not every writer will work on that basis, so you might have to put something in writing. If so, make sure it’s riddled with inconsistent or incompatible requirements, like a request for a tone of voice that’s ‘funky yet authoritative’ or copy that’s ‘brief but comprehensive’.

Using content examplars

Providing examples of content you like is a cracking way to throw your copywriter off the scent – and with digital media, it’s easier than ever.

Simply compile a list of URLs that you allegedly like. But – and this is crucial – do not explain what you like about any of them.

This approach ensures your writer is completely in the dark, wondering whether you like the length, word choice, tone of voice, text formatting or indeed some visual aspect that’s got nothing to do with the text at all.

If the copywriter presses you for an explanation, just mumble something about ‘brand messaging’ or ‘channel optimisation’ until they go away.

You might even want to take it to the next level by requesting that your copywriter uses competitor sites as the basis for writing yours. This is an excellent ploy: not only does it provide no relevant content whatsoever, it’s also profoundly dispiriting for the writer, ensuring their output is that bit duller and less inspired.

Providing source material

Around this point, your writer will probably start whinging about ‘needing some sources’. What they mean is that they lack the basic telepathy skills to mind-read the key points about your business, your brand and your marketing project.

Whatever you do, don’t agree to any interviews, either with yourself or anyone else in your firm. This is a well-known copywriter trick for generating pages and pages of lively, relevant, human-sounding content. Put a stop to it before it starts.

Instead, send them a five-year-old sales presentation in PowerPoint, a press release about someone joining your firm last year and a competitor’s brochure in PDF format – all attached to a brutally dismissive five-word email.

Review and revision

After a while, your writer will submit some content to you. And you may find that, despite your best efforts, it’s actually quite good. But don’t worry – you’ve still got time to mutilate it before it sees the light of day.

Simply send the content for review to a ludicrously large and diverse group of ‘stakeholders’, encouraging each one to have their say. People worry that approving things without comment makes them look stupid, so you’ll get loads of feedback. (Word’s ‘track changes’ feature comes in handy here.)

Now get all these new versions and forward them on to the writer en masse, without reviewing or collating any of them. Your copywriter will spend at least a week trying to act on hundreds of hasty, ill-considered and mutually contradictory comments – destroying much of their own good work in the process.

Approval, design and publication

They say there’s no point buying a dog and barking yourself. But if you really want the very worst content, there may be no alternative.

By now, your copywriter will have given up in despair and sent you an invoice for their ‘work’. (Don’t worry about paying it – there’s no way they can afford to sue you.) But that doesn’t mean your quest for mediocrity has to end.

Before you forward the text to the designer, open it up and make some arbitrary changes. This isn’t graphic design, so you don’t need any Photoshop or InDesign skills – just get in there!

Tweak the punctuation, add extra words and paragraphs, move things around. The more changes you make, the more chance you’ve got of destroying some carefully considered structure or rhythm. All these things can only be bad for quality – with the side benefit that the writer will be too embarrassed to use the final version in their portfolio.

Finally, make sure your designer never speaks to the copywriter, and encourage them to use the most crassly inappropriate layout they possibly can. Because rubbish content deserves nothing less.

  • oscar-the-grouch


23rd June 2012

Eileen MacCallum

Wonderfully written Tom. I’m now being assaulted by vivid flashbacks to a particular client – make it stop!

4th February 2013

Jen F

The revision cycle can be particularly maddening when the client choses this point to change the scope of the document/content.

A tip that was passed on to me was to contractually stipulate that there will only be one review cycle, with one set of comments from the client…whether this works in reality….

5th February 2013

Tom Albrighton

Hi Jen

Thanks for the comment. When I provide a price, I state that one or two rounds of ‘modest’ changes are included. ‘Modest’ is defined as ‘affecting not more than 10% of the text’. It’s still very much open to interpretation, but it’s better than nothing.

15th September 2014


Excellent stuff. I’ve always been a big fan of requests for “punchy and compelling” copy. Because I would never normally write that way unless prompted.

My current favourite task is writing blogs for someone I’ve never met and about whom I know precisely nothing (other than the information gleaned from their LinkedIn profile). I have to give them opinions on a variety of subjects, despite the fact I have no idea what they actually think and have no way of finding out. This is so that they can build their profile on social media, without having to do anything.

15th September 2014

Cinco pasos para generar contenido infumable | La bobina de Aitor Garay

[…] no soy muy de pontificar sobre mi oficio pero, al leer este post de Tom Albrighton (copywriter inglés fino y mucho más listo que yo), he decidido traducirlo […]

15th September 2014


AWESOME. (sorry about the capitals, I was shouting actually).

21st December 2015

Kirsten Irving

PREACH (caps also deliberate). Especially the coven of stakeholders.

18th May 2017

Clare Lynch

‘Make it sound like our competitors, because that’s who we want our website to be aimed at, not our customers’ – true story.

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