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Long Copy vs. Short Copy: Round 1,874

June 14th, 2009 by Bob Bly

The debate over long vs. short copy rages on, and a recent Copy Chasers column in BtoB magazine (6/8/09, p. 26) declares that — at least in B2B advertising — short copy is the winner.

“In an age when 140-character messages seem to push the limits of the human attention span, it’s best to keep things as short and sweet as Twitter,” the column advises.

“Brevity is always welcome in B2B advertising, as decision-makers need to think fast. Advertisers that can concisely convey a message have a distinct advantage over those that force readers to slog through text.”

On the surface, this seems sensible:

1–Businesspeople are busy, and don’t have a lot of time to read.

2–Therefore, they will respond better to short copy than to long copy.

And today, any product information they need is posted on the advertiser’s web site, the URL for which can be featured prominently in the ad.

Yet in consumer advertising, there are still some advertisers who hit home runs with long-copy space ads.

Two that come to mind are the Institute for Children’s Literature (“We’re looking for people to write children’s books”) and The Teaching Company (“The Great Courses”).

So … is BtoB right –and (at least for B2B) is long copy advertising dead at last?

Or can a long copy ad, in some cases, do a better selling job than Madison Avenue’s minimalist approach to body copy?

What say you?


This entry was posted on Sunday, June 14th, 2009 at 5:29 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

14 responses about “Long Copy vs. Short Copy: Round 1,874”

  1. How To Copy Music From Your Computer To A Cd Using Windows Media Player? « Music Blog said:

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  2. Jim Logan said:

    I disagree with BtoB.

    Conventional wisdom is people don’t have time to read anything more than one page. That’s not my experience.

    I believe there’s more danger in writing a one page letter than two or three.

    The danger in intentionally writing a short letter is the author too often artificially stops writing before they present a compelling reason for the reader to take action – call, register, vote, request, accept, etc.

    Just as a 200 page book is not inherently better or worse than a 300 page book or a three hour movie is no more or less engaging than a two hour movie, a one page letter is no better or worse than a four page letter.

    The correct length of sales and marketing copy is the exact length necessary to create an overwhelmingly compelling desire to heed your call to action. And not one word more or less.

  3. Mario Parise said:

    I don’t think we have to choose between them. We have both. It’s just a question of structure.

    If you write your long copy with a keen mind for headlines, lists, bolded elements, and links for further information (if this is online), then even the longest copy will be scanned quickly and effectively. If a reader wants to know more, the long copy is there. If not, then they’re really not the target anyway.

    The key, in my opinion, is to be able to effectively get people’s attention and then filter out non-prospects by properly emphasizing short copy elements within the long copy. (Say that 10 times fast.)


  4. Philip McLean said:

    Test each, and go with what works.

  5. Terrance Charles said:

    Great post, as a copywriter myself, I have to say it’s really on human interest and behavior. Nobody really likes to read long copy. UNLESS, you are SUPER good @ copywriting and keep them glued to the page, but even still, they won’t read the entire thing.

    It’s just like newspapers for example, we don’t read each column etc to find out what we want to read, we skim the title and them skim the paragraphs for our interest.

    That’s why I say short copy is best to go as long as you HAVE everything their thinking and asking in your copy, it doesn’t matter how short or long it is really, eliminate 3 things, fear, affordability, risk and trust and you’ll do find 😉

  6. Greg Herder said:

    The problem is how you define the question. You should not ask should copy be long or short. You should think what is the compelling message that will sell this product or service to your target market. It is different every time you write. Asking should all novels be long or short is about as intelligent as asking should copy be long or short. The question is always what will produce the most sales for this product or service. End the debate and write some copy that sells something and we will all be better off.

    Greg Herder

  7. Phil Wrzesinski said:

    Different personalities require different lengths of copy. Some require bullet points and step-by-step. Some prefer anecdotes and stories. Some just want summaries and catch phrases or sound bites.

    The length of your copy is partially determined by your audience.

    The author’s conclusion of short vs. long more defines that author rather than B2B as a whole. Although an argument can be made that more managers/business owners fall in the bullet point/catch phrase groups than the anecdotal groups.

    Mario’s approach works best to reach multiple groups.

  8. How Do I Copy Music Purchased From The Itunes Music Store To A New Ipod? « Music Blog said:

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  9. Business-to-business and more. | Internet Marketing Dispatch said:

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  10. How To Avoid Writing Mediocre Copy | Marketing Insights, Opinions & Oddities From Chicago said:

    […] The long copy vs. short copy debate is almost as old as advertising itself – “the more you tell, the more you sell” vs. “busy customers don’t have time to wade through all those words.” But Ries’ column is not iteration 1,875 of that debate. Instead, it considers a smaller part of the question: When does short copy become too short? […]

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