Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Quoting Ray Welch

Inflation? The Cost of Free Speech Just Went Up $1,203,000.

Ray Welch, successful copywriter, shared a fabulous anecdote in his book Copywriter. I cannot reproduce the entire short here, as it would be a violation of the copyright. I can however reproduce "brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews." So for the rest of this particular blog, pretend I wrote a brilliant article.

Critically speaking, Ray Welch is one of the funniest story tellers I've had the priviledge of reading. The book is creative, witty, and jam-packed with poignant humor. By that I mean that I learned a few things through my laughter.

The particular quote I'm referencing here is from the story "Kelly". And it's about an ad that never went to print, because it was never commissioned. For the whole story, get the book. For the ad, let me quote the fine print that fell between the large bold words "Inflation?" and "The Cost of Free Speech Just Went Up $1,203,000.":

On March 9, 1978, four oil companies and their advertising agencies got a letter from a Senate subcommittee.

It ordered them to hand over some information:

A copy of every single ad the companies ran during the past five years. A copy and a transcript of every single radio and television commercial, and the dates they ran. A record of every penny the comanies spend in producing and placing the ads. A copy of every single letter, memo, report, survey, test, file, document or phone call to or from anyone in th eworld, concerning the ads, their audience, or their effect.

The companies' crime?

None.

The punishment?

Over a million dollars worth of man-hours to comply with the subcommittee's order.

Why?

You will never believe this, but it's true:

So the subcommittee can figure out which of four
other government agencies to sic on the advertisers -- The FTC, FCC, DOE, or IRS -- each of which has the power to make the companies jump through the very same hoops again!

But there is some comic relief.

That incredible document from the subcommittee actually contains the following words: "Clearly [this] review by the Subcommittee... can have no chilling effect... on an advertiser who may be found... to be exercising his First Amendment rights."

The Feds don't like what you're saying in your ads, so they throw a subpoena at you with a million dollars of "compliance" tacked on, and that's not "chilling"?

You may ask why we're paying good American dollars to complain about problems that aren't even ours:

First, because we have this quaint notion that the First Amendment actually means what it says; that the "Government shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press." And any law, whether it's enacted by the Congress of the United States or by some jerkwater bureaucrat, can be equally abridging, equally "chilling."

Second, because we suspect that it's precisely this sort of regulatory rigmarole that's greatly contributing to inflation. (Ultimately, who do you think will be paying for that $1,203,000 in compliance?)

Therefore, we're going to put the First Amendment to the test:

....To raise awareness. To raise questions. And, when it seems like it's in the public interest, to raise a little hell....


I would enjoy meeting Mr. Ray Welch. His book and the stories therein suggest he is ballsy at the very least. Brilliant as well. And he fully grasped the First Amendment. To see what I mean, go get your own copy of "Copywriter." It's worth it.


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