Short Copy vs Long Copy

Strange, isn’t it? The debate of short copy vs long copy doesn’t happen among professional copywriters. It happens with ad agencies and small business owners on one side, and professional copywriters on the other.
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The deciding factor? Who makes sales and who doesn’t, of course.

The Hobbit is 169 minutes, and grossed $1,017,003,568 worldwide according to IMDB. Can you imagine it doing the same as a five minute video?

When’s the last time you saw a short letter from Publisher’s Clearing House? It takes a good half hour to collect all the stickers and paste them onto your entry. Why? Because the more involved someone becomes with your mailing, the more likely they are to take action.

It is a direct response marketing maxim: The more you tell, the more you sell.

But if long copy is so much better, why do all the ad agencies and media sellers keep telling small business owners to keep it short? Let me start the answer by saying these are the same people who discourage the tracking of results.

They know what works and what doesn’t. They also know what they can sell and what they can’t.

Long copy takes work. It’s work to write the copy, and it’s more work to test the copy. All those uses of a nasty four letter word make it hard to sell. But short, quick and easy sell quite quickly.

Have you ever read an advertorial? Notice they are densely packed, and formatted to look like content (only more densely packed). That denseness of the information on the page is no mistake. Every available scrap of the much vaunted “white space” is used up in an advertorial.

And here’s a tasty tidbit of information: Even with the now required “advertisement” disclosure in the border of an advertorial, this advertising format still draws more readership than any other part of a magazine or newspaper. (They also work quite well in the supposedly dead media of yellow pages.)

Here is an article about just one example of a successful advertorial from Aldi’s.

Before we end up down a rabbit hole of debate and comparison, let’s go straight to the heart of the matter.

The correct length for every ad (letter, space, e-mail, landing page, etc.) is to use only as many words as are needed to persuade the reader to take action.

I know – it doesn’t seem like an iron clad rule, does it? But it is.

A postcard only has so much space, so a professional copywriter knows it should be used to generate interest rather than make sales. Let me share a powerful example of this rule.

The Wall Street Journal mailed a letter of only two pages (781 words) for 28 years. It brought in over $2.5 Billion in sales. The writer of that letter knew that selling a newspaper subscription required a powerful story rather than an exercise in persuasion. So the letter is short.

In another direction, Stansberry Research launched an advertisement titled End Of America using a 60 minute video, and the transcript as a sales letter. Results were good, so they tested a 90 minute video. Results got better.

Then they tested a 2 hour, feature length film. Results dipped. They ran with a 90 minute film, and the transcript as a sales letter, to produce one of the most successful advertising campaigns in history. They now running a new, also successful, promotion with a 76 minute, 51 second video.

Good, profitable advertising takes thought and work. There’s no way around it, and the proof is easily seen in those businesses that succeed (and the 95% that fail). It isn’t a straight forward question of short copy vs long copy. It is a question of putting the right message in front of the right customer at the right time.

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