The Long And Short of Copywriting
By Paul Tracy
Sales letters come in many lengths, ranging from one page to several. Conventional copywriting wisdom holds that long copy most often will outperform short. The maxim is, "The more you tell, the more sell."
Some copywriters have challenged this notion. They criticize much of the testing done on copywriting techniques. Testing for copywriting length is not a straightforward matter, they contend. Whenever copy length is varied, copy content should, of necessity, also vary. Therefore, controlling for just the variable of length is not possible.
Not a Scientific Method
The typical copywriting approach is to use the most successful direct mail copy for a particular product or service as the control against which other copy is tested. That is, the control's characteristics are considered optimal until other tested copy outperforms it.
Critics question whether what held true in the past applies to copywriting today. Anecdotal evidence demonstrating that people are less willing to spend time reading mail than in the past includes complaints from companies that their customers inadvertently toss out as solicitations some bills they receive.
In addition, people today generally are busier. Adults often can't spend much time reading mail. And when people find their mailboxes full of solicitations, they start looking for things to throw out. TV may also have played a role in shortening people's attention spans; people often discard mail they cannot quickly understand.
When to use shorter text
The conventional wisdom is that a two-page letter using single sides of two sheets of paper will outperform the same letter using both sides of one sheet.
Scenarios in which such short copy is appropriate include letters sent to generate leads. In this case, the prospect's interest must be sparked. A more sustained sales effort can be made at the closing. In other situations, well-known brands don't require copy that is as long as that used for unfamiliar brands.