Long, Short, Or No Copy?

The fierce debate about long vs. short copy has rage for eons – first among traditional advertisers and then among online marketers. Now, with channels such as Instagram, we have to add no-copy-whatsoever to the debate. So let’s wade through the pros and cons of each.

Long Form Copy

The argument against long copy is that people either don’t want to read or can’t. To some extent, this is true. However, a long-winded sales argument is like an informercial. It you stay tuned, after a while it wears down your resistance. I remember the first time I saw an infomercial – it was for Ginsu knives. I wanted a set badly. My God, they could cut through concrete and then slice a tomato. My husband (at the time) said, “Absolutely not. How can you fall for that trash?” Shortly thereafter, I fell out of love with him, although I can’t say Ginsu knives had anything to do with it. But, back to the point… long copy can work miracles if people read it. Unlike television, which is passive, reading fully engages the mind. The reader constructs his own pictures in his imagination, so he is invested in you. In a way, long form copy works because it uses more of a potential customer’s brain cells. Long copy has has the potential to be more effective because it gives you the running space to build a relationship with the reader. Mommy blogs are proof perfect of this in action. Note that these blogs use supporting visuals, such as a recipe in progress. Even David Ogilvy, a master of long form copy, used imagery. The trick is to create a story that relates directly to the reader’s interests. Some products don’t fit in this category. If you are selling a weight loss product, long copy peppered with testimonials and before-after photos, is a good idea. If you are selling perfume, an evocative visual and short copy (or no copy) is a better idea. Why? Because it is impossible to describe a scent to someone who has not experienced it and therefore cannot map it out in his own mind.

Short Form Copy

Short copy is great for pithy ideas, particularly humor. Shaggy dog stories are boring; humor requires a quick, jabbing punch line. The fat kid who becomes the class clown understands how humor deflects criticism and creates allies. You can follow the same strategy if your industry is handicapped by consumer antagonism, for example, banking. You can also use humor to stand out in industries where the competitors tend to blur together. Generally, this involves using a headline to pay off a visual, and not much else.

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No Copy

Surprisingly, no copy does not mean no copywriter. It usually means that an art director and copywriter work together to come up with a concept, which is then executed visually. This occurs commonly in video, both television and social media. Concepts are the advertising writer’s stock in trade. Which means great writers don’t need words.