Long or Short Ad Text?

April 2, 2007

The Mousetrap Series…by Matt Michel

The Mousetrap Series is about helping you sell more mousetraps, no matter what the mousetrap is that you sell. I don’t care how good your mousetrap is, few people will buy it if you do not market it well.

8. Long Copy Sells

Advertising great David Ogilvy was a proponent of long copy. Ogilvy felt that long copy gives the marketer the ability to sell. The marketer can build a case for a product, can persuade. Ogilvy said, "I have never admired the belles lettres school of advertising. I have always thought them absurd: they did not give the reader a single fact."

Many disagree. Their view is that busy consumers are bombarded by too much information. If you don’t get to the point and get the point across very quickly, if not instantly, you will fail. A few years before Ogilvy offered the above quote, Margot Sherman of McCann-Erickson said, "We are definitely again in the age of the eye. We have less time to read, browse, meditate and muse. There is such a multiplicity of messages striking us from every side… that it seems sometimes that only the lightning message of a picture can strike deep and hit home when we have a moment to spare."

In a sense, this mirrors the left-brained/right-brained debate. The left-brained school focuses on presenting facts, persuading, and making a logical case for a product or service. The right-brained school is more concerned with emotions, feelings, and imagery.

The left-brained school is characterized by Helmut Krone, formerly of DDB and a member of the Art Directors Hall of Fame. According to Krone, "I think people want information. They don’t get it from advertising. Say you’re buying a tape deck. Well, you’re up against it--especially if you read the ads. A double-entendre headline. Nice photo. But no real meat in the ad. Because the people who did the ad don’t think you really want to know. Advertising people argue that it’s good to make it simple. But that’s not the point. People want to know. Advertising ought to give them the information they need."

By contrast, Lou Centivre of Foote, Cone & Belding says, "If an idea makes me laugh, that’s a sure sign it’s a good idea. All commercials should be entertaining, no exceptions made. Somebody’s making the business too rational, which is wrong. Advertising is an emotional industry."

The debate is not new. It’s been going on for 100 years. So who’s right?

Actually, the both are. We need to apply whole-brained advertising and appeal to both the left and right sides of the brain. Motivate people emotionally and sell them logically. Design your marketing to provide people with the information they need to buy, but also design the marketing for form an impression at a glace and to sell to the busy reader who skims.

Can you always accomplish this? Unfortunately, no. Sometimes you must make a trade-off. As a rule, I would move towards short copy and the right-brained school for something inconsequential. For something requiring more of an investment, I would tend to stress long copy over short and left-brained appeals over right-brained appeals.

As much as possible, however, you should give people the information they need. You should put effort into the graphic design and emotive elements of a piece. However, it’s an insult to create an attractive marketing piece that encourages a reader to spend time reading it, and then leave the him or her hanging without all of the information needed to make a decision.

About 10 years ago, to prove something to someone, I wrote a five page direct mail letter. I buried the response information in the next to the last paragraph. The letter was mailed to contractors, who are notorious for discarding long copy marketing pieces. It generated a 5% response rate (compared to a 1.5% to 2% rate for post cards). Recently, a four-page, well-designed, but copy heavy, direct mail letter similarly out performed an impression heavy post card mailed to the same group. Done right, long copy sells.

Source: Comanche Marketing. Reprinted by permission.
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Copyright © 2003 Matt Michel

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