afaqs!

How long is your copy?

By Ashwini Gangal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | January 16, 2013
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In a move to uplift the craft of long copy writing, Grey's Bodhisatwa Dasgupta announces the launch of the second edition of his long copy competition, the first of which was held last year. The contest began on January 15 and will go on till March 1.

In a world of witty one-liners, catchy taglines and quick brand slogans, the art of writing long copy is dying a quiet death. Or, so thinks Grey's Bodhisatwa Dasgupta.

Bodhisatwa Dasgupta

The Delhi-based associate creative director has launched the second edition of his long copy competition. He is calling it Longhand 2.0. His team includes Dushyant Chopra (his art partner at Grey) and Adhiraj Mukherji (the web designer who has created the competition site, http://longhandawards.com/).

Targeted at agency folk, the competition is, simply put, an attempt to revive the art of writing long ads. "Very few people in the ad industry today are involved in long copy. They've let go of the craft. I want people to regain it," says Dasgupta.

The competition began a couple of days back and will go on till March, 1. Participants can submit their entries on the aforementioned website. The entries have to adhere to very specific briefs (provided on the site). There's no regulation that requires the work entered to be unpublished. After the competition, all entries will be uploaded on the site.

This year's nine-member jury includes both Indian as well as international greats such as Prasoon Joshi, chairman and chief creative officer, McCann Worldgroup India and president, South Asia; Agnello Dias, co-founder and chief creative officer, Taproot India; Neil French, former worldwide creative director, WPP (jury president); Ed McCabe, ad veteran (guest judge); Tony Brignull, D&AD veteran and independent ad-marketing professional (guest judge); Luke Sullivan, author and chair, Advertising Department at Savannah College of Art and Design (jury president); David Shanks, creative director who runs his own one-man company called Clear Brand Essence; Mohit Hira, formerly CMO, NIIT and now senior vice-president and regional business leader, Airtel account, JWT; and Rahul Kansal, executive president, The Times Group.

Longhand 2.0: Call for Entry Poster

Hira and Kansal were approached in order to bring in a client perspective to the process this time around. "Part of promoting long copy in agencies is assuring writers that clients have faith in it, too. There's no better way to do so than having clients on the jury," says Dasgupta, explaining the change.

Like last year, this time too, there will be no physical congregation of the jury; the judging process will be done online. Last year's six-member jury comprised WPP's French, Indra Sinha, novelist and ad veteran; Satbir Singh, managing partner and chief creative officer, Havas Worldwide; Nima Namchu, executive creative director, Cheil; Emmanuel Upputuru, co-founder, ITSA; and Ashish Chakravarty, creative chief, McCann Erickson.

Last year, Longhand received around 520 entries, of which two won gold awards, three won silver awards and five were given bronze awards. The prize included copies of 'Sorry for the Lobsters', a book written by Neil French. Interestingly, Martin Sorrell, CEO, WPP Group and Tham Khai Meng, worldwide chief creative officer, Ogilvy & Mather organised the prizes.

Additionally, the gold winners were also given copies of The Copy Book, a limited edition D&AD publication. "Not to mention the jobs the winners got after the competition," points out Dasgupta. This time's prizes haven't been decided on yet.

That consumer attention span is dwindling fast is an oft-repeated view. Why encourage long copy, a skill that goes against the general trend? Dasgupta insists that long copy can achieve a lot of things that short copy cannot. "Long copy tells a story; one that cannot be told in four or five sentences," he explains.

According to him, today, agency professionals don't want to tell stories anymore because they think people don't read long ads. "Sure there are times in advertising when short copy is needed and when just a visual will work," Dasgupta admits, but adds nonetheless that there are also times when a brand demands long copy.

"If as writers we don't know long copy, we'll be in trouble at some point. I interview so many writers every day. The first premise is that he/she should be able to write. Most writers call themselves 'ideators' or 'brand custodians'. They don't call themselves writers. Fact of the matter is -- they can't write more than 100 words. That's bad because there will come a time in their careers when they're working on an account that will demand long copy," he elaborates.

Facebook is all about quick updates, Twitter has a stringent 140 character limit and the less said about SMS short hand, the better. So, when it comes to promoting long copy, are these relatively modern platforms the enemy?

"No," answers Dasgupta, "I don't think Twitter (or SMS) is taking anything away from long copy. What's taking away from long copy is the industry itself."

How so? "People in agencies don't give this craft importance anymore. Nowadays you hear bosses telling their writers, 'People don't have the time to read your long ads',"

he sighs, insisting that as long as an ad is interesting and grasps the reader, people will read it, length regardless.

Speaking of length, he clarifies that there's no specific lower limit for a piece of text to qualify as long copy. "It could be 10 sentences. It could be 150 sentences. The essence of long copy, though, is that it has to entertain and involve the reader in one way or another. And it has to tell a story," he states, summing up the long and short of it all.

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