Over the last three years, I have had the opportunity to write two long copy campaigns. They turned out reasonably well and, of course, I enjoyed writing them as well.
Nevertheless, I don't have any special desire to write long copy. Blasphemy?
Let's pull back a little bit.
Little kid. Mom wakes her up to get her ready for school. Kid, in no mood to rise from her cosy bed, announces she has a fever. Mom, with a knowing grin and arms outstretched, says, "Really? Shall I check with the thermometer or the tickle monster?" The kid giggles; glee trumps glum.
Same kid. Another day. Returns from the playground wailing; she's hurt her knee. Mother sits her down, washes the wound and applies salve, all the while soothing her with the best balm of all - her voice. Twenty-five minutes later, the crying has subsided. The kid is sniffling, but is also telling her mom how she wants two huge scoops of her favourite jam in the comfort sandwich that she is now craving.
The above capture some of the principles I myself apply to the work I've been doing for the last two decades or so. I am having conversations with real human beings - not target audiences - on behalf of brands that also have very human personalities. Each situation is different. Each brand is different. Each person is different. Each task is different. Each tactic is different.
Going back to the parenting examples, it's doubtful the Mom felt that she enjoyed 25 minute conversations and so, no matter what the circumstance, that is how long she would take to sort out every situation she faced with respect to her kid.
Which is why, I have never understood the deification of long copy by copywriters. After all, I have never heard an art director complain that he or she would stick to, say, water colours, if only the powers that be let it be possible.
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There used to be times when people would look at an ad and comment on how it looks like so-and-so art directed it and read like so-and-so wrote it. I used to take exception to that. In my mind, every ad should reflect the brand personality, regardless of who wrote or art directed it. I am not in this industry to write in my own voice - I have other avenues for that. Similarly, I am not in this industry, either, to push for my favourite style of writing. To be honest, I don't even have a favourite style; I thoroughly enjoy wearing different hats.
If anything, I pride myself on whatever little ability I have to write in any style that may be required at that given moment. That, really, is how I see my job. To present a case in the language of the brand to the people who may find it of interest in an interesting, engaging and compelling way so that it draws their attention - and keeps it.
To me, that's what great copy is about. It's not just about one's command over a language or about felicity with words. And it's definitely not about length. It's as much about choosing that perfect and precise word to craft that powerful, evocative and, ultimately, effective one word headline (think Volkswagen's 'Lemon'), which is just as difficult to do.
Long copy, in my mind, is nothing but one of my tools. I will employ it only when I am certain that it is exactly what is required in order to be most effective. And if I am any good at it, I will keep the reader reading. With every sentence (each, technically, short copy). No superfluous words, no lull in interest, each sentence carrying the previous sentence's thought forward, while triggering anticipation for what is to follow in the next. Each sentence complete, but, like ball bearings, keeping the reader's mind in motion. Each building on the previous one, leading the reader by the heart and mind so effortlessly that even his or her pace quickens without any conscious realisation of it. Setting up, building and penny-dropping the case the brand wishes to put forward in that instance. In other words, long copy (indeed, any copy) should not be about me wanting to write it, but about making the reader want to read it.
Scroll through Instagram (there's a reason I mention IG; will get to it in a moment). It's filled with people showing off the books they're reading. Also, it's filled with both short and long form poets and writers. In other words, people are still interested in reading reams of text. Obviously, though, their choice of reading material is decided by what they wish to read, not by what advertisers want them to. This, of course, is a universal truth that has been true since time immemorial. The moment any piece of advertising finds a way to be of interest to the consumer, it gets absorbed - or, at least, opens that door.
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One might argue that Instagram is not something to bring into evidence when discussing the merits of long copy. Yet, in how Instagram presents itself lie the unsung and unexpected heroes of long copy. The art director.
Instagram breaks long copy posts into bite-sized morsels. How it functions is designed to tempt the viewer to slide for more before he or she reaches a point of fatigue. It also helps trigger curiosity about what is to come on the next slide. Further, the viewer knows it's not going to be 'too' long an engagement - after all, it is, maximum, a ten-morsel meal. It's user-friendly, it's not a challenge and it's not daunting. Finally, so many of these writers employ their particular presentation styles. Always a certain kind of background, a definite kind of font, certain set of props and so on. It's exactly what brands do - or should be doing.
The input art directors bring to long copy is invaluable. In some ways, not taking anything away from the writers who write and rewrite endlessly to achieve the perfect final draft, it's tougher for them. The art directors have so little to play with and, yet, how it is laid out can make all the difference between whether the ad is read or not. How does it contain the personality of the brand? How does it not feel like a challenge? How does he or she provide visual relief? How does he or she make it not appear daunting? How does it catch the eye? And, finally, make it irresistible to read?
Which brings me, oddly, back to Lemon. It's primarily a copy ad, but the artistic decisions told the story. And that brings me to my final point.
I really don't care much about long copy or short copy. There have been ads I have been involved in that have had no words at all and they fill me with as much joy as have my long copy ones. Why? Because our jobs aren't even about copy or art, in the first place.
They're about ideas.
Our craft is our toolbox. Precious and intrinsic to what we do, perhaps, but, in my opinion, always in service of the idea.
(The author is Creative Head, Rediffusion)
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