Thursday 25 November 2010

Long copy is dead. Long live long copy.

I’ve just read an interesting article from THINK Eye Tracking entitled ‘The (Long Forgotten?) Art of Long Copy’. You’ll find it here:

Now this has long been one of my favourite bugbears. The rise and rise of the visual image over the written word. The shunning of the copywriter’s skills to the extent that most press and print advertising now consists of a big picture and a line of often poorly-written copy.

(Without wanting to sound like a grumpy old man, I remember writing four-page and even six-page DM letters for financial services companies back in the 80s. Now I’m lucky if I’m allowed to write more than a side of A4, including of course, the obligatory five or six bullet points.)

You’ve probably seen this trend for yourself – particularly if you’re a copywriter.

But this blog post really brought it home to me. It includes the winning entry in the Commercially Driven section in a ThinkPrint Advertising Effectiveness study. It’s The Art of Long Copy Commercial winner for Adidas by London agency Iris:

It’s certainly well written and engaging. But an ad with 86 words isn’t long copy. The Solarbo kitchens two-step direct response ad from 1980 is what you call long copy.

Of course, we all know why this is happening. The world is moving ever faster. We’re all suffering from information overload. We want everything in bite-sized chunks. Twitter is 140 characters. Text messages all use abbreviations. Rolling news coverage can give us a snapshot of the world in five minutes. Who’s got the time to sit down and read more than a few words from an advertiser?

(I’m sure this lack of respect for the written word is also something to do with the rapidly declining standards in grammar, spelling and punctuation that we all see everywhere.)

Who cares?
But does this trend really matter? Who cares apart from some annoyed and frustrated copywriters?

Actually, I think it does. It means that as creatives - copywriters and art directors – we’re letting our clients down. If you’re not interrogating the product or service and discovering everything possible feature and benefit it has, and then talking about them, how can you possibly do a complete selling job? And if you’re not doing a complete selling job, you’re wasting the client’s money.

Solarbo kitchens ad

Of course, the Solarbo ad above is a two-step direct response ad selling a product off-the-page and encouraging readers to clip the coupon (remember those?) and send for a brochure. This ad sells so hard, even the inset pic (which is proven to increase response) of the free planning kit has its own caption: Planning kit makes it so easy.

But you can still take the same approach with almost any product or service. Remember the D&AD winning long copy ads for Sainsburys in the 80s written by David Abbott? Or the Parker Pen ads from the same decade beautifully crafted by Tony Brignull? They certainly helped build impressive brands for both companies, and it could be argued that they sold off the page.

So let’s start pushing to bring back long copy ads. Who knows, if they’re well written, people might actually read them. And clients might actually see some benefit from their advertising.

Incidentally, I have a whole stack of ads from the 80s which I clipped from the Sunday supplements and saved. I’m just not sure what to do with them. Should I include some more in a blog post? Or set up an archive on my site where you can see them all and gasp at the number of words? I’d be interested to get your feedback.


  1. Set up an archive of the best and worst!

    There's still room for long copy, particularly in print media read by people with more time. Obvious example is the Sunday Express: demographic of older people with the whole afternoon on their hands.

    Great blog: you should post more often - and change the design so it's easier for people to comment. Simon

  2. Thanks for the mention. I'd love to do more advertising effectiveness testing on some of the clippings from the 1980s, let's select several appropriate ads and I'll get them included in Think Eye Tracking's weekly omnibus.

  3. Hi Simon,

    Thanks for your feedback. There's certainly a place for long copy. I've lost count of the number of times I'm asked (told) to cut copy right down and then have to choose which important benefits I leave out.

    I will post more. I tend to write a blog when I have something to say, rather than write just for the sake of it.

    The ad archive is in development - watch this space!


  4. I never understand the almost wordless fashion ads in magazines like GQ and similar "posh" magazines. They must cost tens of thousands of pounds, but everyone I know simply flicks right past them to the words. I spend more time looking at the classified ads.

    I know it's about building a brand, but I can't help but feel that it seems an expensive way to do it.

    I remember long copy adverts from my youth. As a voracious reader, I used to love them - everywhere you looked, you saw different stuff. In fact, I had forgotten they used to exist until I read your post today. Happy times! :)

  5. Wow brilliant offers their advertisers the unique ability to drive the radio advertising price down to your unique business metrics. Advertising has taken a momentous turn with pay per action advertising.

  6. Hello!
    How strange that I bumped into your site. I feel the same as you actually. Which is why I've started something called Longhand. Simply put, it's a first of its kind long copy competition, aimed to resurrect a dying art. My judges this year are Neil French, Tony Brignull, Ed McCabe, David Shanks and a few others.

    You should, (should you wish to) check out the site

    Or, the facebook page