• Brian O'Fril

Business copywriting – the long and the short of it

Updated: Jun 6, 2020

Now and again, I think of the old quote attributed to Mark Twain: “I apologise for writing such a long letter – I didn’t have time to write a short one”. ​ Amongst other things, it reminds me of the eternal question facing copywriters and marketing experts – which is more effective: long copy or short copy? Before you read all the way to the end of this, I’ll tell you the answer now: there is no answer. Except of course that ‘it all depends’. It depends on the audience, the media, the product, the context – and the skill of the copywriter too. Short copy It’s all very well being able to write short snappy headlines that you hope will have customers flocking in. Short copywriting like that is great when you’re updating or improving a previous product or offering. The audience already knows you and your product (you hope) so you don’t need any fluffy copy getting between the reader and your offer. But short copy doesn’t work if you have to explain the details of a complex product new to the market – if you have to educate, coax and cajole them into recognising the service and the value you’re providing.

Long copy This is where long copy comes into its own. It becomes a good old-fashioned sales pitch from you to your target audience because, let’s face it, the principles of persuasive selling haven’t really changed over the centuries. But where long copywriting – or a long sales pitch for that matter – can fall down is when the salesperson (in this instance the copywriter) can’t develop and maintain an interesting narrative for the customer. If your sales pitch is boring, even a couple of paragraphs can be too long. So your target audience is going to flip the page, switch the channel, or swipe back to their Google search. Of course, it’s often said that people actually won’t read a long ad at all. But they do. And down through the years, long copy ads have frequently tested better than short copy ones.

How do we know this? Because real life comparisons often show higher volume sales from the longer version of an ad that’s been tested against a short form version. I occasionally remind clients of this when I present a carefully crafted piece of copywriting only for them to say ‘it’s too long – we all have short attention spans these days’. True maybe. But I tell them that it’s all in the way that it engages - does it grab attention, does it empathise, does it convince and persuade. And when I present some copy that they think is too short? I tell them how it’s perfectly appropriate for the audience, the medium, the context. And that I’ve already taken out everything that is superfluous to a simple direct sales message. And that’s often the hardest part​.

(A final note, remember that if you're looking to hire a copywriter - especially in Ireland or the UK - yours truly works with clients in Belfast, Dublin, London and all points in between. Why not get in touch!)