In all my years of creating advertising, there is one question
that I have been asked more often than any other. One issue that has
caused me more problems with clients than any other. One particular
advertising and direct marketing approach that creates more concern and
disbelief than any other.
So, what is this troublesome question?
“No one is really going to read all that copy, are they?”
Well, since I’m tired of answering this question myself, I
propose that we ask some of the all-time greats in the history of
advertising and direct marketing what they think about this issue.
Let’s see what they have to say...
David Ogilvy (1911- )
David Ogilvy is probably the most famous advertising personality
there is. He not only built the agency he founded, Ogilvy & Mather,
into one of the biggest and most successful in the world, he also wrote
two popular books on the subject: Confessions of an Advertising Man
in 1963 and Ogilvy on Advertising in 1983.
In Confessions, he had the following to say on the subject
of long copy:
is a universal belief in lay circles that people won’t read long copy.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Claude Hopkins once wrote five
pages of solid text for Schlitz beer. In a few months, Schlitz moved up
from fifth place to first. I once wrote a page of solid text for Good
Luck Margarine, with most gratifying results.
advertisement should be a complete sales pitch for your product. It is
unrealistic to assume that consumers will read a series of
advertisements for the same product. You should shoot the works in every
advertisement, on the assumption that it is the only chance you will
ever have to sell your product to the reader—now or never.
Dr. Charles Edwards of the Graduate School of Retailing, at New York
University, “the more facts you tell, the more you sell. An
advertisement’s chance for success invariably increases as the number
of pertinent merchandise facts included in the advertisement
Ogilvy goes on to discuss some of his personal experiences with
long copy ads and shares an anecdote which to this day remains the best
explanation of what kind of copy people like to read:
shows that readership falls off rapidly up to 50 words of copy, but
drops very little between 50 and 500 words. In my first Rolls Royce
advertisement I used 719 words—piling one fascinating fact on another.
In the last paragraph I wrote, “people who feel diffident about
driving a Rolls Royce can buy a Bentley.” Judging from the number of
motorists who picked up the word “diffident” and bandied it about, I
concluded that the advertisement was thoroughly read. In the next one I
used 1,400 words.
have even been able to get people to read long copy about gasoline. One
of our Shell advertisements contained 617 words, and 22% of male readers
read more than half of them.
Schwab [you’ll hear more from him later] tells the story of Max
Hart (of Hart, Schaffner & Marx) and his advertising manager, George
L. Dyer, arguing about long copy. Dyer said, “I’ll bet you $10 I can
write a newspaper page of solid type and you’d read every word of
scoffed at the idea. “I don’t have to write a line of it to prove my
point,” Dyer replied. “I’ll only tell you the headline: ‘This
Page is All About Max Hart’.”
Twenty years later, in Ogilvy on Advertising, he had even
more to say on the subject:
my experience says that for a great many products, long copy sells more
than short. [He then goes on to give numerous examples of successful
long copy ads.] I could give you countless other examples of long copy
which has made the cash register ring, notably for Mercedes cars. Not
only in the United States, but all over the world.
believe, without any research to support me, that advertisements with
long copy convey the impression that you have something important
to say, whether people read the copy or not.
response advertisers know that short copy doesn’t sell. In
split run tests, long copy invariably outsells short copy.
Later, he explains one of the most important differences between
the long and short copy styles of advertising:
people have an unconscious belief that advertisements have to look
like advertisements. They have inherited graphic conventions which
telegraph to the reader, "This is only an advertisement. Skip it."
is no law which says that advertisements have to look like
advertisements. If you make them look like editorial pages, you will
attract more readers. Roughly six times as many people read the average
article as the average advertisement. Very few advertisements are read
by more than one reader in twenty. I conclude that editors communicate
better than admen.
you pretend you are an editor, you will get better results. When the
magazine insists that you slug your ads with the word advertisement,
set it in italic caps, in reverse. Then nobody can read it.
you abandon the conventional graphics of advertisements and adopt
editorial graphics, your campaigns will become islands of good taste in
an ocean of vulgarity.
In a later chapter, Ogilvy puts an exclamation point on his
copy sells more than short copy, particularly when you are asking the
reader to spend a lot of money. Only amateurs use short copy.
John Caples (1900-1990)
John Caples is considered by many in the industry as the ultimate
guru of advertising, and his book, Tested Advertising Methods is
the closest thing there is to an advertising bible. Originally written
in 1938, Caples himself revised the book four times until the late
70’s, and a fifth edition, published in 1997 and edited by Fred Hahn,
has been issued posthumously. Here’s what he has to say on our
short copy ads, set in poster style and containing only a few words of
copy or a slogan, are usually used by advertisers who are unable to
trace the direct sales results from their advertisements.
who can trace the direct sales results from their ads use long copy
because it pulls better than short copy. For example, the book club
advertisers, the record clubs, and the correspondence school advertisers
use ads containing 500 to 1500 words of copy. Also, you will find that
real-estate advertisers, patent medicine advertisers, and classified
advertisers put as much selling copy into their ads as the space will
allow. These people cannot afford to run so-called “reminder copy.”
They have to get immediate sales from every ad.
who sell their goods and services by means of direct mail letters have
found it profitable to use long copy in their advertising. Long copy is
such a tested and proven success that the four-page direct mail letter
has become a rule rather than an option. Where the instruction used to
be “Say whatever you must say, then stop,” it now is, “Say it in
four pages and make it worth reading.”
does not mean that long copy should be used merely for the sake of
filling space. Long copy should be used in order to crowd in as many
sales arguments as possible.
Here are some additional points Caples makes with regard to
length of copy:
of short copy say, “I don’t think anybody will read all that small
print. Let’s cut the copy down to a couple of paragraphs and set it in
the advocates of short copy should say, if they want to be accurate, is
this: “I don’t think everybody will read all that small print.”
This is perfectly true. Everybody will not read it. But the fact is that
the very people you are most interested in will read your ad. These are
the prospects who will buy your product or service if you tell them
sufficient reasons for doing so.
question arises: Why wouldn’t it pay the short-copy users to make
their advertising do the utmost selling job by including more sales
talk? Answer: the chances are that it would pay them.
is a solution to the problem of long copy versus short copy that should
satisfy the champions of both sides of the question. Put a brief selling
message into your headline and subheadings. Put your detailed message
into small print. In this way, you accomplish two things: (1) You get a
brief message across to glancers with your headline and subheads. (2)
You give a complete message in small print to the person who is
sufficiently interested in your product to read about it.
Later in Tested Advertising Methods Caples goes on to say:
you have found your most efficient size ad, you should jam your space
full of copy, no matter whether it is a one-inch ad or a full-page ad.
reminder-style copy consisting of a few words or a slogan does not pull
inquiries as well as long copy packed with facts and reader benefits
about your product or service.
you want to see efficient use of space, look at mail order catalogs or
at the mail-order ads in magazines or in your Sunday newspaper. Some of
the strongest-pulling mail-order ads have contained as many as 1200
words of copy set in small print. Don’t be afraid to use long copy or
small print. Just be sure that your copy is interesting.
In his 1983 book How to Make Your Advertising Make Money,
with lots of facts are effective. And don’t be afraid of long copy. If
your ad is interesting, people will read all the copy you can give them.
If the ad is dull, short copy won’t save it.
Later in the book, he devotes an entire chapter to long copy ads
entitled “How Editorial Style Ads can Bring Increased Sales.” After
discussing numerous highly successful examples he says:
you use the editorial style approach, you will have a powerful factor
working in your favor. People buy newspapers and magazines to read
editorial material—not ads. Readership studies show that the reading
of editorial material is five times as great as the reading of
Now that we’ve heard from—arguably—the two most famous men
in advertising history, let’s ask some of the real pioneers in the
field for their views on long copy.
Claude Hopkins (1867-1932)
Claude Hopkins was one of the first to carefully study and test
the results of different approaches in advertising. He is believed to
have coined the term “scientific advertising” to describe the
approach, and his 1923 book by that name remains one of the all-time
classics in the field. Not only did his work inspire many of the
advertising giants who came after him, but much of his work and his
methods are as applicable today as they were in his day.
Consider his thoughts on our question:
say, “Be very brief. People will read but little.” Would you say
that to a salesman? With the prospect standing before him, would you
confine him to any certain number of words? That would be an unthinkable
in advertising. The only readers we get are people whom our subject
interests. No one reads ads for amusement, long or short. Consider them
as prospects, standing before you, seeking for information. Give them
enough to get action.
motto ... is, "The more you tell the more you sell." and it
has never failed to prove out so in any test we know.
He spends an entire chapter, called “Tell Your Full Story,”
explaining—with numerous examples—the critical importance of
presenting a complete sales argument in every advertisement:
you once get a person’s attention, then is the time to accomplish all
you ever hope with him. Bring all your good arguments to bear. Cover
every phase of your subject. One fact appeals to some, one to another.
Omit any one and a certain percentage will lose the fact which might
convince. ... So present to the reader, when once you get him, every
important claim you have.
best advertisers do that. They learn their appealing claims by
tests—by comparing results from various headlines. Gradually they
accumulate a list of claims important enough to use. All those claims
appear in every ad thereafter.
again brings up the question of brevity. The most common expression you
hear about advertising is that people will not read much. Yet a vast
amount of the best paying advertising shows that people do read much.
Hopkins gives the simple example of trying to convince someone,
face-to-face, to change their favourite brand of breakfast food,
toothpaste, or soap and adopt a new one. He says:
man who once does that at a woman’s door won’t argue for brief
advertisements. He will never again say, "A sentence will do,"
or a name or claim or boast.
will the man who traces his results. Note that brief ads are never
keyed. Know that every traced ad tells the complete story though it
takes columns to tell.
Maxwell Sackheim (1890-1982)
Max Sackheim was a pioneer in the direct marketing field. In
addition to being a famous copywriter (his ad headlined “Do You Make
These Mistakes in English?” is one of the most famous and successful
ever written and ran profitably for over 40 years), he invented the
Book-of-the-Month Club and the negative option approach which have both
been adopted by countless companies since then.
Here’s his point of view:
have never been able to understand why so many advertisers are afraid to
use long copy when there’s so much evidence to prove its value; so
much in fact that the only reason for using short copy is when there
isn’t much to say.
good test of copy is whether or not it can be cut. If it can be cut, cut
it. But when cutting is hard work, you are getting down to bedrock. Tell
your story fully and completely. If you can tell it in ten words, fine.
But if you need a thousand words, nothing less is fair to the space you
Victor O. Schwab
Victor Schwab is the author of one of the classic works on
advertising, How to Write a Good Advertisement, which was first
published in 1962 after he had spent 44 years as an advertising
copywriter. An entire chapter of the book is devoted to “How Long
Should the Copy Be?” and it contains one of the most complete and well
argued explanations of copy length found anywhere.
Here are a few of his thoughts:
who are able to check their advertising and sales results carefully have
discovered an astonishing relationship between effectiveness and number
of words used. They have found that—unless copy is exceptionally fine
or exceptionally bad—these ratios of resultfullness to copy length are
LONGER your copy can hold the interest of the greatest number of
readers, the likelier you are to induce MORE of them to act.
the sludge of human inertia is so stagnant that too small an amount of
copy cannot make that sludge flow into action—unless (and usually even
though) the quality of the copy, or the inherent appeal of the product,
is tremendously far above average. And it’s a rare copy idea that can
be presented with great brevity and still get immediate action.
sum up: the longer your copy can hold people, the more of them you will
sell; and the more interesting your copy is, the longer you will hold
them. If you can keep your reader interested, you’ll have a better
chance of propelling him to action. If you cannot do that, then too
small an amount of copy won’t push him far enough along that road
Later on, Schwab discusses the reasons why people will read long
subject interests your reader most? Himself, and his family. So ... your
copy subject is what your product will do for him, or for his family.
amazing how much copy any person will read, willingly, if it continues
to point out these consumer benefits; if you keep making your product
win advantages for him.
interesting presentation of strong consumer-benefit sales angles
justifies and rewards the use of longer copy.
salesman does not say, “How do you do?” speak a few words about his
product, then ask you to sign the order. No; he uses enough words to get
your emotions and reasoning power flowing toward a sale.
many advertisements virtually say little more than “Hello—Our
product is wonderful—Good-by.”
it is obvious (but often overlooked) that no reader can be influenced by
good sales angles which don’t appear in the advertisement at all.
other words, if these sales angles aren’t in the copy, then ...
readers can’t be influenced by them. But if they are there, they at
least have the chance of influencing all your readers. And you cannot
shorten copy too much, merely for the greater attraction of some people,
without running the risk of leaving too little of it to do a good job of
selling the others.
to compromise with this fact, many advertisers try, in effect, to make a
deal with the reader. They make dull advertisements short. Yet mere
brevity does not make an otherwise dull advertisements interesting—any
more than mere length makes an otherwise interesting advertisement dull.
Real interest will induce a reader to read longer copy, word by word,
whereas the lack of it will not induce him to read even shorter copy.
Schwab hits the nail right on the head when he quotes a remark
attributed to Howard G. Sawyer: “Long copy doesn’t scare away
readers the way it scares away advertisers.” Now if only advertisers
began to realize that…I wouldn’t have a reason to write this
Bob Stone, founder of Stone & Adler, one of the leading
Direct Marketing advertising agencies in the world, is the author of Successful
Direct Marketing Methods, the bible of the direct marketing field.
In the fourth edition of the book, published in 1988, he says:
people read long copy?” The answer is yes! People will read something
for as long as it interests them. An uninteresting one-page letter can
be too long. A skillfully woven four-pager can hold the reader until the
end. Thus, a letter should be long enough to cover the subject
adequately and short enough to retain interest. Don’t be afraid of
long copy. If you have something to say and can say it well, it will
probably do better than short copy. After all, the longer you hold a
prospect’s interest, the more sales points you can get across and the
more likely you are to win an order.
Walter H. Weintz
Walter Weintz is another direct marketing legend, and was one of
the pioneers in magazine and book subscription direct mail when he
worked at Reader’s Digest. In his 1987 book The Solid Gold
Mail Box, he shares his thoughts on long copy direct marketing
question that always comes up, when a mail-order practitioner attempts
to explain his [use of long copy], is “wouldn’t a postcard be more
usually the observation is added, “personally, I never read all that
junk I get in third class mailings. Really now, why do you have to write
four-page letters? Wouldn’t a one-page letter do just as well, or even
answer is, a 4-page letter will generally pull twice as many orders as a
one-page letter, provided that the copywriter has something to say, and
says it with some skill. This isn’t just an opinion: it has been
proved over and over, by tests—where a skeptical client has prepared a
one-page letter, in finest prose, and tested it against a long-winded
fact, Meredith Publishing Company (publishers of Better Homes and
Gardens and Modern Living magazines, as well as numerous books and
clubs) generally prefers a six-page letter-because their tests have
proved that a good 6-pager pulls even better than a 4-pager!
Now, in case you’re thinking that only old-timers and long-dead
marketing pioneers hold these points of view, let’s visit with a few
of today’s generation of marketing gurus and experts.
Robert W. Bly
Bob Bly is a top-notch copywriter and prolific author. In his
1985 book The Copywriter’s Handbook, which received a glowing
recommendation from David Ogilvy himself, he has this to say on the
subject of long copy:
length of the copy—and the number of sales points to include—is
something you, the copywriter, must decide for each project. However, I
offer this piece of advice: if you’re unsure of how long to make the
copy, you’re better off including too much information than not enough
are many studies that confirm that, all else being equal, long-copy ads
sell more effectively than short ones. For example, a recent survey of
72 retailers measured the “success ratio” of their ads against the
number of merchandise facts each ad contained.
he has a table showing a steady increase in success ratio as the number
of merchandise facts increase.]
you can see, the more facts included, the more successful the ad. The
study also revealed that whenever a store omitted any essential
information from an advertisement, sales response was instantly reduced.
be afraid of long copy. Include as many facts as it takes to make the
Gary C. Halbert
Gary Halbert is one of today’s highest paid marketing gurus and
has made millions with his own direct marketing companies. He is the
author of the 1990 book How To Make Maximum Money In Minimum Time!
One of his secrets to profitable newspaper advertising is to:
YOUR AD LOOK LIKE A NEWS STORY. Don’t make it look like an ad. Don’t
use line art. Don’t use arrows, cute graphics, reverse type
(except maybe to highlight a phone number), weird typestyles...OR
ANYTHING ELSE THAT MIGHT WIN AN AWARD FOR GRAPHIC DESIGN.
closer. Listen: here is how to “think” about your newspaper ads.
Think about what could be the best possible piece of luck you could
have. Think about a reporter who heard a rumor about your product or
service and decided to check it out. And then, he fell in love with it.
In fact, he loved it so much, he went back to his typewriter and wrote a
full-page rave article about what you are selling.
that be nice? Sure would. However, it is also unlikely that such a thing
will happen. So...YOU BE THAT REPORTER!
write the rave “article.” Just like a reporter would. And, at the
end of the article, you perform a “public service” for your readers
by telling them where and how to order. But, after all this, don’t
screw up by having your “article” typeset to look like an ad.
No. Noooo. It should be typeset to look like the “article” it is.
You know, ad agencies just love to quote studies that prove how much
people love to read advertising.
material (or material that appears to be editorial) gets 500% more
readership than material that is obviously advertising.
Craig Huey is a California-based direct response advertising
expert. His thoughts about long copy are quoted in the 1998 book
2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success:
copy works. The more you tell, the more you sell. In fact, the reason
ads don’t do as well as direct mail is you don’t have the space to
tell your story as strongly. In just one study, McGraw-Hill reviewed
3,597 ads in 26 business magazines. It found that ads with 300 or more
words were more effective than shorter ads in creating awareness of the
product, prompting action, and reinforcing a buying decision.
few years back, Merrill Lynch ran a very long ad in the New York Times.
Its 6,450 words received a lot of criticism for being “ugly,” for
having “too much copy and not enough graphics.” The headline was
long, too: “What Everybody Ought to Know About This Stock and Bond
all the negative reviews, it received 10,000 responses without even a
Jay Abraham is one of today’s most respected—and highly
paid—marketing consultants and is the author of Getting Everything
You Can Out of All You’ve Got, a book published in 2000. Talking
about sales letters he says:
your letter or E-mail be long or short? Make it long enough to tell a
complete, informative, and interesting story. People think others
won’t read long, multipage letters. That couldn’t be further from
the truth. You’ll read any number of pages if a letter captures your
interest. Make your sales letter long enough to tell a complete story
and to thoroughly address all the necessary components.
shortcut to save space. Edit ruthlessly for waste or boring content
(this is particularly true with E-mail), but never jettison fascinating
facts, forceful reasons, or specific information that adds to your
you had a salesperson calling on a client, would you tell that person to
stop the presentation after thirty seconds to save time? Of course not.
You want that salesperson to take as much time as necessary to make a
compelling case. That also applies to sales letters.
most successful sales letters have been eight, ten, twelve, even sixteen
pages long. But every paragraph was informative, and every section
advanced the case. If you have a hobby or a profession, how much will
you read on that subject? A page? A chapter? A book? The answer is: a
lot. Provided it is interesting. If your sales letters are interesting,
people will gladly read them.
Jay Conrad Levinson
Jay Conrad Levinson is the author of the number one best selling
marketing series of all time, the Guerrilla Marketing books. In Guerrilla
Marketing Attack (1989) he says:
that long copy works better than short copy. Of all the things people
dislike about marketing, “lack of information” comes in second.
[“Feeling deceived” is first.]
In Guerrilla Advertising, a 1994 sequel, he adds:
ads that look like a newspaper story and have a newsy headline are
another sage use of the print media. People read newspapers to get the
news, and if you’ve got some, tell it. They read magazines so they can
become involved with the stories. Let them become involved with your ad.
of the most successful print ads are long-copy ads with headlines that
begin with the words “How to.” ...prospects hang on to every word.
Don’t be deluded into thinking people won’t read long copy. They
will if it interests them. And they will if it solves one of their
problems. The sheer quantity of your copy will impress many prospects
who won’t even read it, but will figure that if you have that much to
say about your offering, it must be worthwhile.
In another 1994 addition to the series, The Guerrilla
Marketing Handbook, co-authored with Seth Godin, he sums up the
issue very nicely:
be afraid to use lengthy copy. It’s been statistically proven time and
time again that ads with more copy draw better than those with less. You
want to give the reader as much of the story about your product or
service as possible. Tell a story that will compel them to buy.
So what do you think now?
Every one of the authors I have quoted is a giant in the field of
advertising. Between them, they have written advertising that has sold
hundreds of billions of dollars worth of products spanning the entire
twentieth century. Every one of them built their career on producing
advertisements that worked phenomenally well for their clients.
And they all agree about the effectiveness of long copy ads. If
you were to review the work they produced during their advertising
careers you would see that they practiced what they preached.
Do you think they could all be wrong? Not too damn likely is it?
Do you think you know more about the subject than they do? Do you
really want to ignore their experience and research?
And I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg, of course. I’ve
provided you with a few brief quotes from some of the greatest men in
advertising history. But every marketing person who has tested and
tracked the results of their advertisements could vouch for the same
thing. And I could share with you hundreds of additional quotes from
marketing books, research papers, and articles that would reiterate the
same conclusions over and over again.
So the next time some uneducated advertising sales person,
graphic designer, or self-proclaimed (and self-deluded) marketing expert
tells you that “No one will read all that copy,” you know what to
do: hand them a copy of this article and suggest that they should really
do a little research before making such foolish statements.
So let’s sum up what we’ve learned from the advertising
greats about long copy ads:
People will read long copy as long as it interests them.
The people that won’t read long copy are the ones who aren’t
interested in your product anyway. No advertisement will change their
mind, regardless of the number of words it contains. Real prospects want
to know as much as they can in order to make a sound decision.
People are primarily interested in themselves, their
families, or their businesses. They are not interested in your company,
product, or service in any other way except for the benefits it will
bring to them. As long as the copy continues to focus on their
self-interest, it will keep their attention.
People read newspapers and magazines for the stories and
articles they contain, not for the ads. In fact, most people scan the
headlines for articles of interest to them while purposely avoiding
anything that looks like advertising. As a result, advertising that
contains a headline which attracts their interest and looks like the
editorial content around it is much more likely to be read than
advertising which looks like advertising.
The purpose of advertising is to motivate and bring about
the desired action in the reader, such as an order, phone call, or visit
to your place of business. For most products and services, a picture and
a few words are highly unlikely to attain the desired response. Your ad
needs to do what a salesman would do when face to face with a prospect
and provide a complete presentation of the product or service benefits.
Because of this, every advertisement should tell the full
and complete story. It should contain all the strongest and most
persuasive reasons for a prospect to do business with you. And for those
who are either too lazy or in too much of a hurry to read all the fine
print, you should include subheads throughout which summarize the main
points of the ad for these quick scanners.
With over a century of practical experience, thorough testing and
research, and the collective recommendation of some of the great names
in advertising history behind it, you can take this approach to the
bank. Long copy advertising works.
1. “I’ve seen
research that says otherwise”
Yes, it is true that supporters of short copy advertising can
produce research which seems to support their point of view. But if you
begin to dig into this “research” a little deeper, you’ll find it
doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny.
First, you’ll find that much of the research is academic in
nature. This means it was done in a laboratory, not the real world. In
most cases, student volunteers—who are not real prospects for the
product or service in question—are shown a series of ads and asked
which ones they “liked” best. Not surprisingly, they choose
attractive or amusing ads. You would never get the same results in the
real world where actual prospects and actual sales are being counted.
The second type of research which seems to contradict the
recommendations I’m making is a favourite of the big general
advertising agencies. They measure for what is known as an
“advertising recall” score and they conclude that the more people
remember the advertising, the better it is. Once again, volunteers who
are not true prospects for the products or services involved are shown a
random series of advertisements. Then, at varying time intervals, they
are asked which ones they remember. Now let me ask you which would you
remember: a pink elephant with green polka dots being ridden by a naked
300-pound woman—or an ad with a simple product picture and lots of
strong selling copy.
You guessed it! The naked woman on the elephant achieves a
significantly higher recall score and is deemed to be the better
advertisement. Now, unless you’re selling pink and green
elephants—or 300-pound naked women—your ad may be remembered, but
it’s not likely to sell much.
If you think my example is too outrageous to be realistic, try a
little experiment: see how many television commercials you remember. Now
see if you remember what those commercials were in fact selling. And
finally, ask yourself if you’ve actually purchased any of those
products or services. Unless you are a particularly astute student of
television commercials, chances are you couldn’t remember what most of
them were selling. If you actually buy any of the products, my guess is
that you were already doing so before the commercials aired. And
remember, we’re talking about television commercials here that you
have probably seen many, many times. “Memorable” print
advertisements are even less likely to work.
2. “If this is true,
why doesn’t everyone know about it—and do it?”
That’s a valid question and there isn’t one simple answer.
But here are a few possible reasons.
First, most of the people involved in creating advertising are
amateurs who have never seriously studied the subject. They are
salespeople who sell advertising space. They are graphic designers who
provide the “free layout services” for newspapers, magazines, and
yellow pages directories. They are free-lance artists, desktop
publishers, print shops, and other business service providers who add
“advertising layout” to their list of services—but don’t bother
to study the subject beyond browsing ads themselves.
These people speak authoritatively on the subject of advertising.
They assume that they know a great deal about it because they work with
advertising every day. They pick up tidbits of advertising wisdom from
colleagues, managers, the advertisers themselves, and other assorted
purveyors of “old wives’ tales.” It may be fascinating and
amusing—but it’s nowhere close to the truth.
There is a second group of people who bring confusion to the
issue in a different way. They are the advertising and marketing people
who studied the subject in the academic world. They present impressive
credentials like business administration degrees, marketing degrees, and
MBAs. Many of them have significant work experience as marketing
managers or consultants. Surely, they must know what they’re talking
Unfortunately, they don’t—not on this subject anyway.
Business schools, you see, teach marketing from the point of view of the
giant corporation: McDonald’s, Budweiser, Ford, IBM...the places where
marketing budgets are measured in the hundreds of millions. These are
the companies that can afford to “build their brand recognition,”
use “reminder” ads, and count on frequent repetition to boost their
market shares by fractions of a percent. Unless you’re working with
the same kind of a budget, you can’t.
The only place you’ll go by listening to the advice of one of
these “academic marketers” is bankruptcy court. Because they
haven’t studied scientific, tested advertising methods where actual
sales are the only measure of effectiveness, and they haven’t
practiced their craft in the real world where each advertisement needs
to produce profitable results, they wrongly assume that their Fortune
500 marketing methods apply to all businesses.
Finally, there is a “blind leading the blind” element at
work. When people go into business, they assume that bigger competitors
must know what they’re doing. They figure that the advertising they
see everywhere they look, especially the kind placed by big, successful
companies, must be the right way—and proceed to imitate it. And, of
course, they are reinforced in their decisions by the two misguided
groups mentioned above.
Lost in this great sea of marketing idiocy are the lonely voices
of the marketers who have done their homework, who have practiced and
experimented in the real world. Make sure you don’t ignore them just
because they are in the minority.
3. “The newspaper,
magazine, and yellow pages publishers don’t want me to do long copy
Publishers often seem to go to great lengths to talk you out of
running long copy advertising. Why is that?
The issues we’ve already covered above explain most of the
problem, but there are a few other points worth mentioning.
First, it is obviously far cheaper, easier, and quicker to
produce low-copy or poster style advertising. A stock photo or piece of
clip art, the company name and logo, a few “clever” words of copy or
a slogan, and you’re done! Next…! Anyone with a basic grasp of
graphic design or page layout software and a minimal amount of good
taste can perform the task in just a few minutes. (Sadly, some
publishers don’t even include the minimal amount of good taste in
their qualification requirements.)
Since publishers usually offer these design services free of
charge to advertisers, they are not about to hire highly skilled
copywriters and marketers. The last thing they want you to do is to
start a trend and have their other advertisers begin asking them to
create high copy ads.
Newspaper and magazine publishers—and by extension their sales
representatives—are also huge fans of reminder advertising. “Keep
your name in front of the customer,” they tell you, recommending that
you place ads in every issue of their publication so that their readers
can’t possibly forget you. They are right—up to a point, of
course—because readers won’t forget something they never
notice in the first place. The motivation for this seemingly helpful
suggestion is quite transparent: A “reminder” advertiser never needs
to be sold advertising space again, an ideal scenario for the sales rep
and publisher alike.
Finally, magazines and newspapers are concerned that editorial
style ads will compete with the actual editorial material in their
publication and confuse their readers. This is not an unreasonable
concern—and is in fact exactly what you hope to accomplish as an
advertiser—but chances are that there will never be more than a
handful of advertisers using this technique thanks to the overwhelming
majority of the short-copy advocates. And besides, it’s really not
4. “I showed people
some long copy ads, and they told me they don’t like them and don’t
You’ve fallen into the trap of the researchers we discussed
previously. My guess is that you asked people who were not real
prospects for the product or service featured in the ad. It’s also
possible that the ad had a poor headline, weak, uninteresting copy, or
boastful, company-centered information that didn’t connect with the
reader’s self-interest. Just because an ad has long copy does not
necessarily make it a good one.
If you want a truer test of what people think about long copy
ads, begin by finding out what it is they are really interested in or
passionate about, like a favourite cause, beloved hobby, or grave
concern. Now ask them if they would read a long copy ad on that
I think you already know the answer.
There are hundreds of factors which determine whether an ad is
successful or unsuccessful. One of the factors that seems to cause a
great deal of confusion, scepticism, and debate is the use of long copy
Now that you've heard the opinion of some of the greatest names
in advertising history on the subject, I hope that you will never again
be afraid that long copy will not be read.
The evidence is in. The results from decades of testing and
experimentation are conclusive. The logic is clear and simple.
Long copy ads work.