Long copy ads: gone but not forgotten

Of course, everyone will tell you that long copy is dead. Copy should be short and punchy. People don’t have long enough attention spans any more. People don’t like reading nowadays. Everyone will tell you that people are too busy in this so-called ‘Internet Age’ to read long copy ads.

It’s certainly true that clients are less likely to commission long copy these days. But is that the same thing? Advertising as a whole has become a lot more conservative in the last ten or fifteen years. It’s rare that ads grab the public attention and actually become loved like they once were. So, just as clients play it safe on TV the same is true in print. They tend to do what everyone else is doing and, unfortunately, everyone else seems to be doing short copy.

Who’s afraid of long copy ads?

Since short copy ads have become the norm though, it’s difficult to go back. By definition, a short copy ad is easy to grasp – and that’s not just for the customer but for the marketing manager who’s asked for it too. It’s easy for him/her to sell on up the line to senior bosses because, on the one hand, there’s less to discuss and, on the other, all the bosses think this is the way advertisements are meant to look these days.

In short, those commissioning ads and those providing them are scared of doing anything different.

People still read. Shock horror.

What’s the reason for that though? Received wisdom says that it’s just the way of the world: life has moved on from the days when we had the leisure to read anything more than three paragraphs. But even today, according to The Reading Agency, “reading is one of our most popular pastimes” in the UK, more popular than going to the cinema, theatres or concerts. People do still read.

2000 words on why Mars bars are good

That’s not to say that every product would benefit from a long copy treatment. There are plenty of studies that show that short copy is better suited to low cost, impulse buys like a bar of chocolate for instance. (Imagine an ad with a 2000 word exposition on the delights of a Mars bar. Hang on, actually, that could work!) And if we’re already very familiar with a product or brand we’re more likely to be sold on short – or at least shorter – copy. But when a product is a big-ticket item, when it’s something technologically advanced or simply has a lot of features then a long copy ad is not only more informative but it’s reassuring too: “Look at all those words, it must be a serious bit of kit.”
I use the phrase “Look at all those words” advisedly, freely acknowledging that a big wodge of text might seem off-putting. But that’s where the craft and guile of the copywriter come in. For a start, a copywriter doesn’t necessarily expect a reader to read every word. That’s why the ad is divided up by sub-heads which give the whole story in a glance. The clever copywriter also knows that people are most likely to read the beginning and the end bits first so those paras had better be especially good. And if the copy is well crafted and compelling it should draw the customer in beyond that cursory look.

Gone? Or just relocated?

There’s one other thing that we tend to overlook in this ‘Internet Age’. The internet. One of the reasons why advertisers can get away with making every ad a short copy one is that they include their web address at the bottom of the copy where a prospect can go for more information. All the copy that used to be on the page is now on the screen. Now, whether online copy should be long or short is a question for another day.

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2 replies
  1. Keith
    Keith says:

    Long Copy vs. Short Copy is nonsense — the argument that people’s attention spans have shrunk is just as ridiculous. People watch hours of Netflix at a time. They have no problem spending hours on one video game. Or on a sporting event. Or Pinterest. Or whatever else.

    People are perfectly happy giving hours of attention to anything that **interests** them, but they have become belligerent toward anything that doesn’t. The problem isn’t that copy is too long — the problem is that it’s irrelevant.

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