We’re all familiar with those philosophical disputes conducted among the
more retarded members of society that go rather like: ‘Man United is the
best f***ing football team in the f***ing country’, ‘No it f***ing
isn’t’, ‘Yes it f***ing is’, and so on.
Such exchanges represent the very acme of logic compared with what I
read a few weeks ago in Campaign, where it seems, dear readers, that
otherwise quite bright people have been seeking - yet again - the answer
to the timeless problem: ‘How long will that copy be?’. And if there
were a Museum of the Moronic, some of the views expressed deserve a
proud place there.
No less a personage than John Hegarty of Bartle Bogle Hegarty stated
magisterially ‘long copy is an indulgence’. I can’t believe anyone as
wise as Hegarty would make such a bizarre remark, and trust he was
either misquoted or recovering from a good lunch. If not, I shall have
to recast him as the Michael Heseltine of advertising. But there he was
in black and white, abetted by Patrick Collister of Ogilvy and Mather,
who suggested ‘literacy was irrelevant’ nowadays.
Discussing the length of copy is as futile as wondering how tall a good
general should be. However, if any reader should be fooled by the first
statement above, it has been well and truly rebutted by two friends of
mine: one, the creative director of O&M New Delhi, who replied: ‘How
much string do you need to wrap a parcel?’; the other, Bill Jayme, the
world’s highest paid direct mail copywriter (up to dollars 40,000 a
mailing) said: ‘Nobody ever complained Gone with the Wind was too long.’
These remarks tell us all we need to know, ie, the length should be
fitted to the task, and if it’s interesting people will read a lot, but
if it’s boring they’ll read none of it. An even better authority, David
Ogilvy (who will read Collister’s silly remark and weep) says long copy
always works better than short.
That may not necessarily be true, though I have found it so, but the
only research I’ve seen, by McGraw Hill some years ago, found readership
of ads in Business Week with more than 1000 words was about 25% higher
than among those with less.
Long copy is no indulgence. Far from it - it is bloody hard to write.
Nor is literacy irrelevant unless you are writing to illiterates. I
admit this is true of most customers and almost everyone who writes
marketing or advertising documents, but it is probably less so in the
case of those with lots of money.
And while stupid people’s money looks and spends the same as everyone
else’s, you will probably find your efforts are rewarded far better
among the rich than the poor.
Moreover, though we are all (contrary to what some politicians tell you)
more prosperous than we were, the rich are, sadly, getting relatively
richer and the poor poorer. If you want to take big money off rich
people then long, literate copy is more likely to do it than short
illiterate copy. Is that clear?
Drayton Bird runs the Drayton Bird Partnership