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Have video and the web rendered copy obsolete?

December 1st, 2017 by Bob Bly

When I was just starting out in the corporate world in the late
70s, I gave one of my product managers the first draft of a
brochure I had written for his product, a complex radar system.

As he read it, he smiled: “You know, no one reads the copy
anymore.”

I smiled back: “In that case, why not just print the brochure
with just pictures?”

He was not amused.

And so within a year, I left for another job — this one with an
industrial manufacturer where the product managers thought good
copy was key in making the sale.

Yet, when the radar brochure was in fact published, it was of
course filled with many words describing the product, the
technology, and the features in great detail.

As for the idea that one picture is worth a thousand words,
that’s debatable.

But one thing we do know is that our visuals communicate more
clearly and effectively when they have captions.

The fact is that many pictures, though convincing, they are much
better understood by the readers when there is a caption to
explain what the person is looking at.

Also, no airport is going to invest a huge sum of money to buy a
radar upon which air traffic safety is absolutely dependent
without learning everything they can about it — and you can only
communicate that with lots and lots of words.

I stick by what I said to my radar product manager, and ask the
same question of the “no one reads” believers in marketing today.

Namely, if no one reads the copy, why do you agonize over every
word in the approval process?

In his book “The View from the Cheap Seats,” Neil Gaiman
explains:

“There were noises made a few years ago about the idea that we
were living in a post-literate world in which the ability to make
sense out of written words was somehow redundant.

“But these days, those noises are gone [and] words are more
important than they ever were.

“We navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto
the web, we need to follow, to comprehend what we’re reading.

“People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas.”

When I wrote copy for FDA-approved medical devices aimed at
doctors, my client said, “Doctors are busy and do not have time
to read.”

But a person who does not read cannot graduate medical school and
get an MD. And a doctor who does not read cannot keep up with the
many medical journals in his field.

So the idea that MDs do not read is patently absurd.

I have interviewed many medical doctors for copywriting projects
— and most were absolutely information junkies when it came to
learning about medicine.

In consumer direct marketing, we also hear “people do not read
anymore.”

What marketers do not realize is that the people who do not read
are not your prospects — not if you sell business-to-business,
publishing, or direct response offers.

Buyers read copy, and as a rule the more of your copy they read,
the more likely they are to buy.

These days, I write mostly for clients who are in direct response,
health, financial, high-tech, industrial, and business-to-business
marketing.

In other words, clients for whom the words in the copy matter.

There are other clients who place minimal value on copy, and
focus instead on pictures, video, or other bright shiny objects.

They are not a good fit for me, and I assiduously avoid them.

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This entry was posted on Friday, December 1st, 2017 at 1:33 pm and is filed under Writing. 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.

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