The Truth About Long Copy

I don’t often post articles or blog entries from others, but this topic of long copy vs.short copy never goes away. Veteran Copywriter and Consultant Bob Bly offers his response on the issue.

Recently JN, one of my readers, sent me an e-mail very similar in sentiment to dozens of other e-mails I have received over the years.

“Why do marketers like ETR and AWAI send me 16-page DM packages when the copywriter could have said the same thing in 1 to 2 pages?” JN writes.

“The prospect might even buy out of gratitude for not having to wade through those 16 pages and breathe a sigh of relief instead of snarl a nasty expletive.”

But JN is not through lambasting long-copy direct marketing yet. Her e-mail continues:

“My brother-in-law makes a hobby of going through those 16-page packages just for fun, red-penciling errors before he tosses them. He would never, under pain of death, buy from a DM

And it’s not just JN’s brother-in-law who thinks direct marketing copywriters are fools.

“My sister just drops those 16-page mailings in the recycling without even bothering to open them,” JN reports.

“Many of the people I know feel the same way. So why do copywriters persist in creating these massive multi-page mailings? Because they are paid by the page? Or because the client wants his pound of flesh from his writers?”

Finally, JN turns to the Internet as the harbinger of doom for long copy, asking, “Isn’t the Internet killing off traditional direct response copywriting?

The answer to JN’s question is fairly simple….

The marketers she complains about use long copy not because they love writing it ... or paying their copywriters a fortune to write it for them … or because they enjoy spending more money on
printing and postage.

They use long copy for only one reason: it works.

Now, does long copy always out-pull short copy?

Of course not.

But long copy often out-pulls short copy when:

  • You are marketing information products or other products that are sold by telling stories or conveying ideas.
  • You are generating a direct sale … via mail order … rather than just generating a lead or inquiry.
  • The reader is unfamiliar with your product and its benefits.
  • You are demanding payment with order. The prospect has to pay up front with a check or credit card. He cannot order the product on credit and get an invoice he can choose to pay – or not pay – later.
  • The product is complex and therefore requires a lot of explanation.
  • The product is something people want rather than something they need – it is a discretionary purchase.
  • The product is expensive, representing an expenditure the prospect is likely to consider carefully before ordering.

As for JN’s theory that the Internet is making traditional long-copy direct marketing obsolete, it’s quite the opposite: a product that requires long copy to sell offline usually requires long copy to sell online as well.

For instance, take a look at my Web site

So … what does this long copy vs. short copy debate have to do with “the worst way to make marketing decisions”?

Simply that it illustrates that the worst way to make marketing decisions – which is what JN and her family are doing — is through subjective judgment.

Copywriter Peter Beutchel advises marketers: “Don’t let personal preferences get in the way.”

What’s important is not what you think, like, believe, or prefer … it’s what your prospects think, like, believe, and prefer.

The poor general advertisers! They are largely stuck having to make subjective judgments about marketing campaigns.

Reason: most general advertisers cannot precisely measure the ROMD (return on marketing dollars) for their ads and commercials.

But direct marketers don’t have to rely solely on subjective judgment. We don’t have to let our personal likes and dislikes cloud our judgment, like JN’s brother-in-law.

That’s because direct marketers can put almost any proposition – e.g., headline “A” vs. headline “B,” or long copy vs. short copy – to a direct test with an A/B split.

So, JN, it doesn’t matter what your sister or brother-in-law do … or that they don’t like long copy.

What matters is that in a statistically valid split test, the long copy generated more orders than the short copy.

I close with this quote from advertising legend Claude Hopkins: “Advertising arguments should only be settled by testing, not arguments around a conference table.”

(This article appears courtesy of Bob Bly’s Direct Response Letter,”

David Coyne


David Coyne

David Coyne

David Coyne is a B2B copywriter and marketing consultant with 25 years experience in the business-to-business sector.

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David Coyne

David Coyne

David Coyne is a B2B copywriter and marketing consultant with 25 years experience in the business-to-business sector.

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