Is Long Copy Dead?

March 7th, 2012 by Bob Bly

Yes, according to my subscriber GB.

“I don’t know anyone in today’s age, other than a very bored stay-at-home, who has the time or patience to read through all those pages of copy, and God forbid, having to sit through those horrendous dragged-out sales videos,” she says. “I’m at the point that if one of those videos comes up, there’s no message or product on earth that’s worth such a waste of time and I delete it on the spot.”

She is particularly critical of Agora Publishing, a company that has pioneered long-copy landing pages and video sales letters. “Agora needs an overhaul,” she says. “It’s no longer working for busy people. Needed: one page, short and focused with impact.”

The problem with GB’s argument is that Agora makes a fortune from those long sales letters and videos, to the tune of around $300 million a year — kind of demolishing GB’s premise that long copy doesn’t work for them.

Your thoughts?

 

 

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 7th, 2012 at 11:05 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

15 responses about “Is Long Copy Dead?”

  1. Joseph Ratliff said:

    I love it when this debate surfaces.

    Long copy will never die, neither will video sales letters IMO.

    If one page isn’t enough to sell whatever is being sold, how could long copy be dead?

    Busy people read long sales letters too, if there is a compelling enough reason to do so. Also, it does help they are reading something that appeals to them (a la part of the target market the letter is directed to).

  2. Oliver Radini said:

    I think the truth is that bad long sales copy has always been dead, but people generalise to all long sales copy. The difficult part is making long copy interesting, but that’s the job of a copywriter.

  3. Morgan said:

    I’ve found long copy especially effective when trying to convince someone to purchase a high-ticket item. These prospects have a lot of questions before making a significant investment for their business or personal use.

  4. Erica Douglass said:

    Great point…but here’s something to think about:

    1) Are Agora’s revenues going up or down over time?
    2) Is Agora testing (and having success with) different forms of sales letters?

    As they are a private company, we may never know the answers to these questions. But it’s still worth testing for our own businesses.

    Moral of the story: Never believe what someone else says–either way! Test for yourself, and see what works.

    -Erica

  5. David Harper said:

    I respect my readers’ time way too much to be interested in long/short. I know they are busy. I want to edit for the shortest length possible to respect their time. If i can make it shorter, shorter, then better, better … because I respect their time. To let techniques like long copy enter into the motivation is to dilute trust.

  6. Bob Bly said:

    David: If short copy sells $100 and long copy for the same product sells $1,000, you are saying you would use the short copy? That would increase your marketing costs tenfold.

  7. Mary Rose Maguire said:

    Ah, the old “Long copy is dead, people hate long copy!” debate!

    My husband hates long copy. I love it. Adore it. I’d write it even if I wasn’t getting paid for it. (Wait a minute… I have!)

    I used to be slightly suspicious of its effect, (“I don’t have enough time to read a novella!!”) UNTIL I stumbled on a LC page that grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. It fed my inner conspiracy theorist, fears of the future, etc. etc. It led me by the nose all the way down the page until I suddenly realized…

    I had been hooked!

    Why? Because it was a topic that interested me. The author was claiming to have “inside information.” (Always a good hook.) Secrets sell and yes, even knowing what I know about long copy, I happily went along for the ride.

    I have a split-test direct mailer on deck that consists of a one-page sales letter and a four-pager. (I’m doing this mostly to prove my husband wrong as well as get new business… what can I say? He’s usually right about most things!)

    I am betting the four-pager easily pulls more response than the one-pager. I could be wrong, but I doubt it. I did a great deal of research to find the pain points of the targets, so we’ll see if I was right with the copy.

    Long sales copy works because ultimately, people have a greater hold on their wallet than ever before. They want proof. They want reassurance. They want solutions that are credible. Giving them short copy doesn’t ease their mind and IMO, will not loosen that grip on their wallets…

    I’d love to hear if anyone did a short vs. long copy and found that their sales INCREASED with the shorter copy. Perhaps there are industry exceptions.

  8. John Forde said:

    Ha… Bob sent me the link to this page and now I see why.

    Alas, while GB is not alone in the objections she raises, she would find herself very lonely in her conclusions… especially at a table with Agora’s marketers.

    I confess, I write some of those lonnnng messages. Strike that, I write a lot of them. And I get what might sound like a tiny single-digit percentage royalty on the sales any of those promotions generate.

    In other words, if long OR short copy doesn’t sell, I go broke. We don’t need to go into my personal finances… but I’m far from broke. And I’m just one of many copywriters making a very good living doing this.

    My point isn’t to flaunt, but to illustrate that you have to imagine that those who pay us to do it must either be fools… or making a lot more on those long letters than we are.

    And in fact, they are.

    Bob put it succinctly about Agora. They’re a $300 million-a-year company (actually, more than that now). Those videos you hate? Just the format change alone (not a word of copy was changed from the print letters) tripled response rates, even on “tired” text letters and put a surge of an extra $100 million+ to the bottom line.

    For confidentially reasons, I can’t be more specific… but I think you can see the point. GB might feel that the half hour or more to watch a video isn’t worth it, but perhaps it’s not the length but the topic that’s not interesting to her?

    I like to offer this analogy to GB-types: “Gone with the Wind” was one of the most successful movies of all time, at two minutes shy of four hours. Would it have been 10 times better as a five-minute short? Titanic, Gandhi, The Sound of Music, Sophie’s Choice… they’re all long too. Would cutting any one of them in half make them better?

    Imagine the things we could improve, if making them happen faster were the only criteria. 50-year love affairs, fine meals in five-star restaurants, youth… wouldn’t all be better if we just skip all the build up, the long middles, and the resolution… to just get them over with instead?

    Yes, GB might say, but you’re not making great (or even good) movies, writing great novels, or leading us through all the drama of a lifetime… you’re just writing pieces of “junk” mail.

    True. But we use the long copy deliberately and without apology, just the same… for one very simple and, at least to us, obvious reason: it works.

    Like gangbusters.

    Would shorter versions work even better? GB might think so. But we know otherwise. We’ve tested versions that were shortened by as much as 40%… and have consistently seen response rates fall by half or more.

    What’s that tell you? Frankly, I have no idea… because I’m sure GB’s right that people are more busy than ever, more overwhelmed by media messages than ever, and less patient than ever (generally speaking)… but if long copy beats short copy, we’d be fools to go short just because someone like GB says we should.

    Speaking of long, that’s where this reply has already gone… so my apologies for that. No, strike that too. Hope that I went on just long enough to make this clear… and long enough that maybe you enjoyed reading it, too.

    (Bob, thanks for the forward.)

  9. Mary Rose Maguire said:

    Well said, John.

    And for the record, both my husband and I are huge fans of the very long story, “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien. And I am very fond of the huge tomes of Harry Potter stories, by J.K. Rowling.

    I’m with you, Bob Bly, and all others who know the truth: long copy works.

  10. Jim Logan said:

    I believe the long copy versus short copy argument is crazy. Copy should be as long as necessary to compel the reader to act.

    The most successful letter I’ve written for a client was one page. And the most successful letter I’ve written for my business was four pages. Neither letter was intended be a certain length when I started.

    Forget about how long or short the copy is and instead focus on the argument you’re making to compel the reader to act. Don’t add one word more or less.

  11. Jacob Duchaine said:

    I think that long copy isn’t dead so much as it’s losing market share.

    I do think there are a lot of people who prefer shorter copy, and that the Facebook and Twitter culture are increasing that portion.

    On the other hand, there are still many situations that long copy is exactly what people are looking for. I think that saying long copy’s dead just because it’s a bit less popular than in days past is wrong.

    As you pointed out, people are using long copy, because it still works.

  12. Juan Ortiz said:

    I agree in the sense that long copy is not going anywhere. If it did, so would brochures, newspapers, and keynote speeches. However, One has to know where to apply long copy, and where not to.

    I don’t believe long copy belongs in blog posts because of the way people use technology today (phones and tablets for reading). But when it comes to informercials, brochures, annual reports, and speeches, you obviously need long copy to create a complete picture of your message to your consumers. Short copy won’t get it done there.

  13. Martin Gross-Albenhausen said:

    I had an easy way of proving how effective long copy is. Aside of not being crafted as one piece of copy, printing out all the copy in one single product page of Amazon would make you read one of the longest sales-letters ever written.

    Not to forget that we do not read sales letters as one letter. Maybe the letter starts with that famous Johnson-Box repeating the teaser or making a bold statement. Then we have sublines … bullet-copy … bold copy … Pictures … we process long copy, and if the target ist well selected, it will be drawn into the text.

    Remember the formula: 40 % target, 40 % offer, 20 % creative. Still valid today, IMHO

  14. Vikas Shukla said:

    Bob, I think long copy is still effective. In fact, most of the times long copy outsells short copy. It’s because there remain several unanswered questions in a short copy. And those unanswered questions raise doubts in the customer’s mind, thus killing sales.

    A long copy answers almost every question a customer may have, leaving no room for doubts! That’s the reason I always prefer long copy.

    Vikas

  15. Yvone Borunda said:

    An outstanding share! I have just forwarded this onto a coworker who has been doing a little homework on this. And he in fact ordered me breakfast simply because I found it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to discuss this matter here on your blog.

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