Is longer really better? A ringside view by Charles Victor, NCD

Advertising and words – it was a love that seemed to last forever.

Then Mr. Jobs came along with a fancy looking machine and before you could type ‘double click’, young art students airbrushed away the written word from advertising.

Make no mistake; everyone (including my 89 year old great-grand aunt and myself) loves pictures. Especially if they tell us a clever story. And some of my favorite pieces of advertising include many such visual stories. Visual stories are great but their older counterparts have a magic that a picture can never perform.

The ‘no-copy’ ad doesn’t give me an alternative. It doesn’t let me complete the rest of the picture/story in my head. It doesn’t always let my imagination get involved in the piece of work. I see it, consume it and go ‘wow, I wish I did that’. But that’s it. It’s a static image that indelibly imprinted itself in my head.

Words, on the other hand, are different. Words let me add whatever images to them in my head. “Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of water…” Jack’s wearing blue jeans and is shirtless, while Jill wears red hot pants and a black bustier. The hill is straight out of a Tim Burton film. There are birds flying in formation in the background behind them. I’m free to add these and whatever images I want to these words. Some wonderful long copy advertising has managed to do that quite wonderfully. The ones for Dixons, Dutch Rail and Tide that are featured here do that quite uniquely. They do have visuals…except the visuals are in your head.

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But not all long copy necessarily has a visual side to it in your head. Some are so involving in the way they’re written, you just can’t help but read on to see where it’s leading you. Take the or Chivas ones featured here. Sometimes, long copy advertising does do quite the opposite of what we were all taught as young writers – use a lot of words to accomplish what a few can.

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Others tell you stories. Wonderful pieces of history like the ones for the Arts Channel. Or the brimming-with-nostalgia piece for Wispa. It doesn’t always have to be something grand like the examples just featured. Sometimes the stories can be about ordinary lives like yours and mine, like the one for Ford captures here. Words can take our ordinary lives and make them sparkling pieces of work that you want to read again and again. Look at what the Nike example does to one rather insignificant body part (or significant, depending on what your preference may be!).

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So is long copy really better than no-copy? I don’t need to tell you that there’s no real answer to that. Both are great. We live in times when we’re tweeting from our phones, connecting a conference call and replying to email at the same time. Times that don’t often give you the luxury to consume words (although I don’t entirely believe that and the newspaper is proof enough that we do indeed have the time). The no-copy advocates tell you that what you need for these milli-second attention spans is a good visual sock in the jaw. But let’s not forget the powerful right-brained punch of long copy. The long copy tells you a little story that’s gone from black & white to technicolor to 3D in seconds (with red hot pants and a black bustier thrown in!).

And before I finish, let me just leave you with a fantastic example where no-copy advertising does indeed rely on lots and lots of copy. Read the example below again and again. You might just fall in love with words all over again!

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  1. Do people really read much anymore. We are in an age of 140 characters. Even the most essential news on television is reduced to the ticker at the bottom. More than long copy is it long talking? If you look at debates and such programs on most channels it seems to be true. And how would long copy score in the digital era? Where freshness of content is the only master.

    • Charles Victor |

      Hi Vinay! Extremely pertinent question and one that I toss around in my head more often than I’m tossing away long copy drafts! In fact, without giving away too much, I’m sure something that’s going to be here soon will present you a whole different solution (or an entirely new problem, which is even more exciting!).

  2. Thanks Charles for a really making the post long & interesting.
    Who can forget ads like ” There is a spelling mistake in this ad “, At 60 miles an hour the loudest ….. of the electric clock etc.. there are innumerable examples of words weaving magic, copy which you could really feel as if somebody was right there sitting in front and conversing with you and keeping you engaged.

    We need the magic back in our advertising. We need writers who put pen to paper and brush aside the key board

    • Charles Victor |

      That’s a great point you made about long copy conversing with the reader. I think it’s an extremely effective approach in an age where words like ‘engagement’ are used so loosely.

  3. Very interesting Charles! I absolutely believe in the power of copy even today, and I’d say it’s an inter-play of copy and typography that fuels imaginative thoughts. I love the Jack in blue jeans, shirtless visual!


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