Advertising started out as selling prose written by newspapermen. Obviously, long copy.
Later on, illustrations, and then photographs, were added to make the advertisements more attractive. The copy evolved. Various theories came up as to how shorter headlines and pithy body copy made it easier for the reader to absorb the sales pitch. But even then, expert admen wrote, and made a success of 17 word headlines. (David Ogilvy for Rolls Royce – “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in the new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”
Advertising practioners and teachers started talking about “post card’ ads, and ‘letter’ ads. Post card ads meant a storytelling picture and a terse headline. (‘Lemon’ for Volkswagen, by Bill Bernbach or Our new American plant for VW, by Bill Bernbach.) Letter ads meant long, descriptive copy. (the risqué ads for Paco Rabane Mens’ Fragrances)
Pundits professed the merits of p-copy and s-copy.
Then came television. The duration of advertising communication came down to 1 min (in the western world) and 30 seconds (Indian television). Television took over as the dominant news medium. Businessmen, who used to dip their newspapers in runny egg yolk, or sambar, on the breakfast table, could mind their table manners, while watching the news on television. Lending libraries showed no returns on their investments. A large number of magazines and newspapers shut shop.
That’s when the debate really heated up. ‘Nobody reads long copy’ became ‘nobody reads!’ The circulations of print media vehicles became severely curtailed. And television advertising rates soared.
Then technology took a hand again.
Cellular phone services were launched. The new medium of SMS (Short Message Service) cut down messages to a few words. And the time needed for the message to reach the reader, came down to a few seconds. The customers discovered new abbreviations or short forms for words. The only shortcoming was the lack of pictures.
Then comes Facebook. Pictures, videos, and enough space for long, long posts, if the user felt like it.
Then comes Twitter. Again with pictures, but obviously shorter posts.
Along comes WhatsApp. Pictures, videos, text, video calls. The entire communication spectrum, in the palm of the user.
The Indian Telegraph service shut down.
It seemed that the argument against long copy had almost won.
Almost, but not quite.
Let’s look at the situation today.
Granted, one of the most respected broadsheet dailies in India has become a gossip rag. That too with non-existent proofreading. But the newspaper still reaches a lot of households. And people still do read.
Technology has crept in here too. The e-paper does appear regularly on smart phones.
There are other pages too, that appear on various screens. The specialist pages, or fan pages, anywhere on the net tells you that users will read. Sports organizations have internet sites with huge hit counts. Professional bodies have their sites, which carry on professional debates, with a large number of participants.
Long copy, very long copy, is read, dissected, commented upon and reread, and shared.
What does all this tell us, the professional communicators?
The audience will read.
The right audience, that is.
And the message has to be relevant, and of interest to the right audience.
It has to be well written.
It has to give the reader something new by way of information.
It has to reach the reader, or be accessible, in the right window during the readers’ waking hours.
If the creator of the communication takes care to fulfill all these rather elementary requirements, then the audience will read any length of copy.
Like you just did!