Long Copy (noun): A detailed and lengthy approach to describing the product or service, its uses, benefits, features and the like versus those of competitive products. As a general rule, expensive or complex products or unique services require longer copy — since it is sometimes necessary to “educate” the prospect. (Citation: Canadian Marketing Association
Long copy is the Kodak-Eastman of the advertising world. Perhaps it’s still a little bit relevant, but man… it’s on the way out. Just like Kodak lost relevance in a world that shunned film photography, long copy will lose relevance in a world that increasingly shuns the magic of the written narrative.
Look at it this way: the written narrative is a communication technique developed not long after written language emerged. Chinese monks were doing this in 2500 BCE – 4,500 years ago, give or take. In this era (where fireworks were the bleeding edge of technology), the written word allowed people to communicate audiovisual content indirectly – relying on the reader’s mind to conjure up the desired scene. The more descriptive the narrative, the closer that the content imagined by the reader would align to what the writer had intended.
Things have changed. In the 1960s, television became mainstream. For the first time ever, a near-instantaneous communication medium which allowed the creator to very precisely transmit audiovisual content to an audience was a reality. However, the sheer cost of creating broadcast-quality content kept it out of the reach of the little guy. High cost is the main reason that television broadcast survived so long as the only mass media channel capable of communicating audiovisual imagery in near real-time.
Fast forward to 2012. The mass media landscape is extremely fragmented. The cost to deploy high-tech, interactive, real-time display networks has plummeted. Digital Out-Of-Home networks are popping up all over the place. The overhead of maintaining traditional mass media (read: television) is close to causing its own demise. Niche content networks are the new king of the hill, and that’s unlikely to change (though competition for consumer eyeballs will ramp up sharply in the coming years).
More importantly: the cost to create and deploy powerful, attention-grabbing content is at an all time low.
Not only is the cost to create and communicate content very low, but tools that remove the need for complex technical training are ubiquitous (Animoto, anyone?). Platforms to host this content are also readily available. I’m sure you’ve heard of Facebook, YouTube, WordPress, and Pinterest).
What this all boils down to is control. In 2500 BCE China, there wasn’t a means available for the content creator to rigidly control how the audience perceived or imagined the content. In 2012, there is. In the modern age, platforms are now available which allow content creators to rigidly control how their content is both perceived and imagined (variance based on cultural perceptions aside, of course). If you want a very precise audiovisual message communicated to an audience, which platform has less margin for error – a thirty second web video or two paragraphs of written text in which the audience’s mind has to translate the words to images and sound?
If you’re not buying what I’m selling, go hang out with a bunch of 15-19 year olds for an hour. Make note of how many are flipping through a book versus how many are buried in a smartphone. Spoiler: the latter will greatly outweigh the former. Not only are the next generation of consumers choosing to consume rigidly-structured audiovisual content over the written word, the combined clout of media channels and the consumer culture shaped by business is increasingly persuading them to do so.
What does this mean for the small business owner? If you aren’t already, start looking to interactive content platforms and ensure that your marketing program includes a healthy mix of search, social, and display. Digital marketing platforms offer an opportunity to reach targeted customer groups and engage them with innovative (and creative) content.
In closing, I’d like to head off an argument that someone will surely make. It goes like this: by writing this blog post, I’m actually proving that long copy is a healthy, effective medium. There’s a fallacy here though: this isn’t a blog that consumers will frequent. If they happen to stumble across it, they likely won’t care about the content. The only people who will read this post and have an opinion on it are industry folks or motivated, marketing-oriented business owners. Industry folks aren’t my target market; after all, we mostly compete against them to win new business. Business owners (our target market) also aren’t swayed by long copy, in my experience. Business owners are swayed by this statement, often verbatim:
“Executing this plan will cost you [X Dollars] and the return we’re forecasting is [X Dollars]. Here’s the contract. Would you like to borrow my pen?”