September 1, 2010Does Long Copy Work?
How effective is long copy?
The London Long Copy challenge is underway. For those of you who haven’t seen the ads yet, it’s a competition for copywriters and creatives based in London to design London Underground posters led by copy of between 50-200 words. Which isn’t much for a sales brochure, but it’s a hell of a lot for a great big print ad.
Who reads sales brochures anyway?
There are two schools of thought in copywriting. One: you get a little information in quickly. It’s better than trying to get it all in and not being memorable at all. Two: the more copy you have, the more likely you are to get some or all of your argument across. I don’t need to tell you which style is more in vogue at the minute.
London Long Copy contest or not, the fact is most copy is short. It’s sharp. The only place for 200 words these days is in a blog or SEO led copy. That doesn’t mean sales brochures don’t have their purpose. They’re just usually given out to people who are at least half way sold on your services. A quick fire advertisment gets them to call. Then you send them the long copy brochure.
Long Copy is at the heart of copywriting history
On a quiet afternoon last week I visited the Museum of Brands in London’s Notting Hill and I remembered something I’d forgotten since history textbooks and school. Remember all those old products? The Bryllcream and the bear’s wax and the powdered eggs and all those other funny old brands? Take another look at the packaging. You’ll find more words on the front than tattoos on a hipster’s arm.
Minimalism – It’s just a fashion
As the years go by, copy gets shorter and design, packaging and other forms of marketing become more important. Why? Partly because it’s assumed that attention spans are shorter, partly because it’s assumed that people are idiots (remember keep it simple, stupid? well, now the emphasis is firmly on the stupid). But it’s also because design — and the role of the designer have become more important. Copywriters like me are usually relegated to the role of idea generation, creative direction and branding strategy if we’re smart, and a lifetime of report writing and coaching sales pitches if we’re not. Luckily I’m smart. But for all those copywriters who aren’t, it must look like we’re practically out of a job. And why? All because designers assume people don’t read any more.
Long copy still works.
Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s what some of the pioneers have to say:
“The longer your copy can hold the interest of the greatest number of readers, the likelier you are to induce more of them to act.”
- Victor Schwab
““Remember that long copy works better than short copy. Of all the things people dislike about marketing, “lack of information” comes in second. ["Feeling deceived" is first.]”
- Jay Conrad Levinson
Okay, so you know about ‘keep it simple, stupid’ but what about ‘garbage in, garbage out?’ A three or four word headline can be forgotten as quickly as it’s read. But if you can catch someone’s attention and keep them reading, it’s like reeling in a fish. Instead of four or five trite, pun-laden words and a generic smiling face (or whatever other design cliche you care to mention), you’ve got your audience’s undivided attention for maybe up to 30 seconds. A week may be a long time in politics, but 30 seconds is a lifetime in advertising.
Think how long your average TV advert lasts. How many words it probably contains. Long copy still has the power to reach further and deeper than other short-copy-and-design led ad campaigns.
The law of diminishing returns: in other words, don’t waffle.
Of course, it’s not always true that ‘the longer the copy, the more information you get across.’ The golden rule is this: use only as many words you need to get the message to your reader. If your sales brochure can be spoken in 1000 words, don’t use 4000 just because it fills up the available space. Don’t waffle.
Ironic as it may sound, long copy is at its best when it’s kept short.
Minimalism isn’t the art of using three or four words. It’s simply the art of using the fewest words needed to get the job done – whether that’s ten or ten thousand.
And if you don’t think long copy still has a place, ask yourself this. How many 25 word blog posts have you read lately?
Long copy works.