Due to Pimples the Long Copy vs. Short Copy Debate has Ended

by Barry A. Densa

Which converts better, which drives more sales, long-form copy or short-form copy?

It’s been debated since the first recorded newspaper advertisement was published in 1704 in the Boston News-Letter:

“At Oyster-bay on Long-Island in the Province of N.York, There is a very good Fulling-Mill, to be Let or Sold, as also a Plantation, having on it a large new Brick house, and another good house by it for a Kitchin & work house, with a Barn, Stable, etc. a young Orchard, and 20 Acres clear Land. The Mill is to be Let with or without the Plantation: Enquire of Mr. William Bradford Printer in N.York, and know further.”, (My thanks to Derrick Day for publishing this ad in his blog, Branding Strategy Insider)

Clearly, the above was a short-form ad. And yet…

“The more you tell, the more you sell,” claim the adherents of long copy.

“No one has time to read below the fold,” counter short copy partisans.

Of course both sides are right… to the degree that each side fully understands their customer’s needs and their customer’s state of awareness as to how well the product or service in question fulfills those needs.

In other words…

One size does not fit all

Does Campbell’s Soup need an 18-page scrolling online sales letter to sell tomato soup?

Soup is soup, and everyone’s heard of Campbell’s. An 18-word ad would suffice.

Most people shopping for soup are only interested in the price of their favorite brand, be it Campbell’s or another, and whether or not there’s a coupon attached�neither of which requires a lot of supportive copy.

But, if Campbell’s brings to market an all natural, gluten and fat-free tomato soup that helps you lose weight, sleep better and score a raise from your boss on Monday morning… they’ve got a lot of persuading to do.

As does an investment newsletter selling 12-month subscriptions at $2,000-a-pop.

A 2 inch by 2 inch print ad, a one paragraph email or a tear-off coupon will not have enough selling power, information and enticements, to lift $2,000 out of an anyone’s wallet.

The reader’s valuable time isn’t the issue

Yes, we are a frenetic, multi-tasking, hyper-achieving, constantly on the go society.

We prefer pithy sound bites over verbose, grand-eloquent, chest-thumping prose.

By the way, nothing decreases readership faster, thereby killing sales, than ads with half-page long paragraphs in eye-straining small, 10 pt or less, fonts.

Yet, people will actually attempt to read a 48-page letter, magalog or bookalog, even poorly formatted and designed ones�if the headline, deck copy and lead grabs their attention�which it will only do if it’s clearly about a topic that deeply interests them on a visceral level.

Whether or not they will read it through to the end, and act upon its call to action�totally depends on the copywriter’s ability to keep their interest and increase their desire.

It’s the same reason no one will put down a good book, even if its 1,000 pages long. Indeed, who wants a good book to end?

Bottom line, people will read as much as is available about any subject that’s important to them, emotionally, financially or intellectually.

Convince people your product can make them richer, prettier, younger or healthier, among other things�and as long as they’ve been hungry for those promised results for a long, long time�they’ll find the time to read every word you’ve got to say.

But, then again, sometimes you just don’t need to say a lot.

When short copy is enough

As a marketer, if you’ve got a product that in general is like every other product of its kind, though maybe with a few value-added differences�there’s no need to re-write the entire history of your product’s invention in your sales copy.

For example, if you’re selling acne cream�all you need say is, “Pimples disappear over night with Acme Acne Cream.”

There’s no need to explain to a teenager what a pimple is, where they pop up, who gets them�the poor kid just wants to get rid of his, quick.

After all, what teenager doesn’t know what acne cream is? And besides, the kid knows he needs it. So just grab him by his oily cheeks, in a very teenager-engaging fashion, and quickly tell him why he should use YOUR acne cream.

And you can easily do it above the fold.

When to make it a little longer

Sixteen-year-old Samantha really doesn’t suffer from acne (the operative word here is suffer). She gets a pimple or two only when something stressful is approaching�a final exam or a first date, for example.

So in this case, merely announcing the existence of your acne cream will probably not excite her enough to forgo a shopping spree at the mall and invest in a 6-month supply of your really cool super pimple cream instead.

Samantha just doesn’t recognize her infrequent flare-ups as a problem requiring her attention.

So the goal of your marketing is to actually get her attention�and keep it�because selling her will obviously take longer.

Offering Samantha a coupon or sending her a mobile message will not be enough.

To get her awareness level up and her desire engaged you’ll need to paint her a picture, tell her a story�many, in fact.

Bottom line: if the sale is worth the effort… your online ad needs to continue below the fold… and your print ad will need a half-page, at least.

In short, you’ll need more copy.

When to fire all torpedoes

Let’s say you’ve invented the “one application�never see a pimple return again�pleasantly perfect pimple cream.” One small tube, one large price tag and pimples are gone forever.

Now if you think you can sell that above the fold or just slightly below it�you need to fold up your marketing director, stick him in an envelope, and let the kid down in the shipping department design your marketing campaign.

Understand, if your pleasantly perfect pimple cream costs your target teenager a month’s allowance, you’ve got a lot of serious, serious selling to do.

For one, he’s probably going to ask his parents to pay for it. So you’ll have to convince them, too�sort of like in B2B marketing�where buying decisions are made by a disinterested, financially-stressed, pressed-for-time committee.

Bottom line: when you’re confronted with a complex sale, brevity is not your ally.

You simply cannot provide all the information�a compelling story, incontrovertible proof, undeniable credibility, risk reversal, and an irresistible offer�all of which is necessary to convince, persuade and close a difficult sale�in a tweet.

If you’re selling a first-to-market product or a complicated and expensive service, which your target market has little or no awareness of�yes, you’ll certainly need to grab their attention above the fold…

But then you’ll also need to sit down with them as a friend, via the written word, and have a long and serious chat about how you’re really here to help them.

And you’ll need to continue that same conversation with them�for as long as it takes�until they finally agree to shake your hand.

And to do that you’ll need a lot of copy, pages and pages of it.

Barry A. Densa is a freelance marketing and sales copywriter. You can reach him at 805-236-4801. To view samples of his work and sign up for his FREE ezine Marketing Wit & Wisdom! visit http://www.WritingWithPersonality.com

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