At the beginning of every project, I experience a thrill of apprehension – can I really carry this job off? Did I oversell my ability in the pitch? What if I wake up in the morning and my grasp of the English language has been stolen by pixies?
And then I take a deep breath, re-read the client’s instructions and get on with the job.
But this time something in the brief pulled me up short, sweat prickling my forehead as my heart began to race. Something truly terrifying nestled therein.
What have the Romans ever done for us?
Working with a lot of technology companies, I’m comfortable with TLAs – three letter acronyms (or sometimes abbreviations). I know my RAM from my ROM, my NAS from my SAN, and my CPU from my PSU. But there is one TLA that terrifies me, as it should any conscientious copywriter.
Because where HP Lovecraft gave us tales of ancient evil and creatures of the dark, the Romans left us something far, far worse. They gave us the now ubiquitous et cetera (‘and the other things’), which went on to become its own TLA – etc.
GAG – Get a grip
Now you may think that my adverse reaction to etc is a little over the top. That I should just man up and get back to bashing my keyboard, but I’d like you to indulge me for a moment as I explain why you should be similarly worried about this pre-Jesus (or BCE) TLA.
As you read this post on the PCN, I expect you already know that great copy is waffle-free. It serves a purpose. It doesn’t waste the reader’s time, but speaks to (and solves) their needs directly.
Which is where the problem of etc rears its ugly head.
Etc is modern day shorthand for ‘and other stuff’, a filler for when we cannot (or will not) nail down the specifics. It is also the point at which a brief fails completely.
When your instructions use the shorthand ‘and stuff’, it becomes completely impossible to build a focused message. Your copy will struggle to make the right impact simply because all of the details have not been properly identified.
NMS – No more stuff
If you wrote a brief containing etc, consider this your virtual wrist slap of warning. Don’t do it again. You’re only hurting yourself etc etc and stuff.
But if your client slipped in an etc, go back to them for clarification. Keep going back until you get the answers you need. I can almost guarantee that if they used one etc, they will have used quite a few throughout the document. And every single one is a potential point of failure for your completed copy.
And in the case of the fright-inducing brief I mentioned? Despite facing some bone-crushingly tight deadlines, I went back to the client and asked them to clarify their etcs, explaining how ambiguity would kill their project. Faced with a proper explanation of what was at stake, they were more than happy to go into all the detail I wanted. Even if they didn’t extend the deadline.
Besides, there’s nothing like too much pressure to help sharpen copy.
IYF – It’s your fault
If you don’t chase down the etcs, you can bet your client’s customers won’t bother either. Etc takes the lazy position that your potential customer already understands everything, that they are capable of reading between lines they may not even know exist in order to understand your message. Which would make your copy pointless.
If you work off an etc brief you can be almost certain that sales will not increase, and the campaign will be judged a failure. And everything will be your fault because you wrote the copy.
So is my fear of etc irrational and unfounded? No. It’s actually the concern of a professional trying to do the job right. And stuff.