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Long or short, good writing always wins

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Back in the halcyon days of industrial marketing, long-copy ads or copy-dominant ads were quite common. The buyers of sophisticated, expensive products or services appreciated the wealth of information those ads put before them.

In those days, decision-makers had the time and inclination to read ads that made a convincing case for a product or service. The best of the long-copy ads were so elegantly written that they read as if they were short-copy productions. Copy that was as concise as it was precise carried the day. Smart art direction and savvy use of headlines and illustrations were also critical in making a wealth of copy appear less daunting.

Today, long-copy ads are relatively rare. In an Internet-driven age, people are conditioned to absorbing only flashes of information. There's much less tolerance for a well-told tale or an ad that builds its argument with words, not images.

Our scan of the business press produced a mix of good and not-so-good long-copy ads. Let's begin on the low end of the spectrum with an ad for software maker BIGFIX. It greets readers with a long, dense pack of copy that begins by sounding as if it's a news release:

"We are pleased to announce BIGFIX Discovery 7.0, available for immediate delivery. Now you can conquer your IT time and space with real-time visibility and control across hundreds of thousands of servers in minutes!"

Copy might have been more approachable had it not been wedged between illustrations, headlines, logos and a column of product specifications. White space, which might have allowed the text to better resonate, was in short supply. Like the copy, the ad's appearance was not appealing.

RuffaloCODY, a provider of fundraising and management services to universities, allows the text to dominate its ad. Two thumbnail photos of university executives serving up testimonials are the only visuals besides the faint image of Greek columns in the background. The white space is more evident than in the BIGFIX ad, but the text still looks uninviting. The ad itself needs better art direction to drive readers into the testimonial text that makes a strong case for RuffaloCODY's services. A better design would help make the long copy appear more like short copy.

Macedonia, which bills itself as the "new business heaven in Europe," confronts readers with a spray of bulleted copy. We're all for bullets, but in smaller doses than this. Seventeen bullets are no substitute for what could have been a long, interesting tale about what makes Macedonia a great place to do business. The ad's lack of art direction hardly inspires confidence in companies looking for a dynamic new venue.

On the positive side of the ledger is a copy-dominant ad for Legal Opinion Leaders that begins with this well-turned headline: "Your influence may be growing." The lead-in begins on a strong note thanks to short, active-sounding copy that makes good use of personal pronouns:

"Whose opinions hold sway? Yours could, when you become a Legal Opinion Leader. Well-reasoned opinions can help us to help you in unexpected ways. Through brief, periodic online surveys, they guide us and our business partners as we strive to improve the products and information we deliver every day." White space frames the message that's a breeze to absorb.

Much the same can be said for a copy-only junior spread for software maker Cognos. It launches on a bright note because of seamless interplay between the headline—"The delete button for that voice in your head"—and the opening line of text: "It's loudest just after you've rolled out a new strategy."

Copy goes on to extol Cognos' expertise in performance management while assuring readers that it can supply customers with accurate, timely views of a company's progress against financial and operational goals.

Writing that's bright, informative and well-framed on the page will engage readers from start to finish—regardless of its length.

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