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Do Long Copy Ads Work?
Let's Ask Some of the Greatest Names in Advertising History ...

By: George Demmer

As a business and marketing consultant, George Demmer has been helping companies become more successful for over 15 years. He is the President of Reality Marketing Associates (www.realityassociates.com), a company focused on generating measurable real-world results for its clients. You can contact him at info@realityassociates.com.

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- )


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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.


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In Confessions, he had the following to say on the subject of long copy:
There 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.

Every 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.
Says 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 increases."
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:
Research 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.

We 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.

Vic 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 it."

Hart 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:
All 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.

I 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.

Direct 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:
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."

There 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.

If 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.

If 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 argument:
Long copy sells more than short copy, particularly when you are asking the reader to spend a lot of money. Only amateurs use short copy.


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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 subject:
The 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.

Advertisers 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.

Advertisers 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."

This 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:
Advocates 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 18-point type."

What 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.

The 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.

Here 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:
After 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.

Brief, 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.

If 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.

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In his 1983 book How to Make Your Advertising Make Money, Caples says:
Ads 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:
If 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 advertising.

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.



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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:
Some 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 handicap.

So 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.

The 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:
When 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.

The 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.

This 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:
A 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.

Nor 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:
I 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.

One 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 pay for.


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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:
Advertisers 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 fairly constant.

The LONGER your copy can hold the interest of the greatest number of readers, the likelier you are to induce MORE of them to act.

Because 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.

To 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 anyway.
Later on, Schwab discusses the reasons why people will read long copy:
What 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.

It’s 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.

Continuously interesting presentation of strong consumer-benefit sales angles justifies and rewards the use of longer copy.

A 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.

Yet many advertisements virtually say little more than "Hello—Our product is wonderful—Good-by."

Likewise, 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.

In 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.

Attempting 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 article!



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Bob Stone


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:
"Do 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 letters:
...a 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 effective?"

And 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 better?"

The 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 4-pager.

In 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.



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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:
The 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 information.

There 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.

[Here he has a table showing a steady increase in success ratio as the number of merchandise facts increase.]

As 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.

Don’t be afraid of long copy. Include as many facts as it takes to make the sale.

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:
MAKE 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.

Come 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.

Wouldn’t that be nice? Sure would. However, it is also unlikely that such a thing will happen. So...YOU BE THAT REPORTER!

You 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. 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.

Garbage! Garbage! Garbage!

Editorial material (or material that appears to be editorial) gets 500% more readership than material that is obviously advertising.


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Craig Huey


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:
Long 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.

A 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 Business."

Despite all the negative reviews, it received 10,000 responses without even a coupon.


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Jay Abraham


Jay Abraham is one of today’s most respected—and highly paid—marketing consultants and is the author of Getting Everything You Can Get out of All You've Got, a book published in 2000. Talking about sales letters he says:
Should 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.

Don’t 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 compelling story.

If 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.

My 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.


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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:
Remember 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.]

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In Guerrilla Advertising, a 1994 sequel, he adds:
Print 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.

Many 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.

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In another 1994 addition to the series, The Guerrilla Marketing Handbook, co-authored with Seth Godin, he sums up the issue very nicely:
Don’t 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.


Summing Up

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.

Yes, but...

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 about.

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 ads"

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 your problem.

4. "I showed people some long copy ads, and they told me they don’t like them and don’t read them"

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 subject.

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 in advertisements.

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.

© 2001 George Demmer and Reality Marketing Associates

Other Articles by George Demmer

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.

 

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