I noticed my earlier post about how I got started writing proved popular. As I cast my mind back to those days, I recalled the gig that required me to write copy in for a website or print catalogue of Eastern European cigarettes.

The odd thing about this is that I was a non-smoker. Although I smoked for 10 years until 2003, by the time this freelance project came around, I’d been smoke-free for four or five years. Despite this, I had managed to place a successful bid for the project, which I think was listed on guru.com. It wasn’t until I sat down to start, however, that I realised the scale of the challenge.

I can’t quite remember the details but I think I was charged with writing 150 word descriptions for 100 brands of cigarettes that I’d never heard of. I hadn’t even smelled them, let alone smoked them.

Make It Up

The only option was to get creative. This was a copywriting gig, after all, and the majority of things you see advertised are rarely as interesting or sexy as they’re presented.

Consequently, I ended up describing utter nonsense about balls, spies, naval references, admiration, and generally playing up to cold war tropes that wouldn’t upset ex-communist Hungarians. I had no idea who would be reading it (presumably English-speaking fans of cigarettes from Kiev) but I think the results were good enough. Certainly, I got paid, which is also a good indication.

From the Ashes

I had thought the cigarette descriptions lost, but I stumbled across them recently while checking an old cloud drive folder. First, I found some notes:

How many lines is 600 characters then?  I imagine it is around 6 lines if we base it on the assumption that 100 characters appears on each line including spaces.  In fact it turns out I could be very close to the truth as 2 lines amounts to around 170 characters, whereas four lines would probably amount to something like three hundred and thirty five characters.  However as we are now on line five I would like to suggest that perhaps the initial estimation was slightly conservative, and that in fact we should be looking in the region of eight lines of text in Times New Roman, twelve point. OK? 

This looks like a response to a discussion with the client about the format of the submissions and I don’t know where it went from there. Based on the submitted descriptions there must have been further interactions, now lost to time.

Regrettably not all of the descriptions have made it to 2021. I think a hard disk failed so while some were successfully recovered, others were not. Curiously, these were each submitted as individual .txt files (my memory told me they were sent in a spreadsheet, but that was another project; presumably I used a notepad app to count the characters).

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Of particular interest here, I think, is the third one. There is absolutely no way that sort of text would be acceptable in 2021. It’s a bit creepy, but as noted above, I was mining ideas from the past to hit the project requirements. I’ve only been able to turn up half a dozen or so of these descriptions so far, and they’re all similarly silly. That’s a natural state for me, and perhaps Irealised it was a bit of a silly project when I started.

You certainly couldn’t take any of this seriously… but would any of it sell cigarettes in 2008? It certainly wouldn’t fly in 2021.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. This was an important step on my journey to becoming a writer full time. At that point it paid more than any previous project, and it also taught me an important lesson: stick to writing jobs you enjoy.