If Long Copy Stinks, Think Soap

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I often talk about the need for long copy often depends on your market. Borrowed from Eugene Schwartz’ magnum opus Breakthrough Advertising, it’s based on the market’s stage of sophistication for the product.

The newer the product is, the less sophisticated the market will be. The less sophisticated the market is, the more copy is required to persuade.

I, however, prefer to base it on the the market’s level of awareness of the problem and not so much the product. I call it my O.A.T.H. formula, which stands for oblivious, apathetic, thinking, and hurting.

The more oblivious the market is about the problem, the more education is required. Consequently, you will need more copy in order to convince them that:

  1. they actually do have a problem,
  2. the problem is important and needs to be solved,
  3. the solution offered is the better one for them, and
  4. the solution is needed urgently (or else).

Sophistication about the product or awareness of the problem aside, there’s also an extra factor to look at when considering how long your copy should be.

Back in 2006, my friend and copywriter, the late John “Ritz” Riskowitz, published one of my articles on long copy to his list, to which one of his subscribers protested. His protest points out the fact that commodity products, like soap, do not require long copy.

Here’s what this subscriber said…

Wrong. The copy must be long enough to work. Long copy does not help the sale of chewing gum. Long copy does not help the sale of Copy paper. Long copy was not used to sell Generic products in stores. Chevy doesn’t use long copy. Ford. Toyota. GM. Honda. General Mills. John Deere. All use short copy.

I agree with what this person is saying, and in fact what he was referring to is the product category or commodity level, which is another factor to consider when it comes to copy length.

Based on the consumer’s buying behavior, academia labels these categories as:

  • convenience products,
  • shopping products,
  • specialty products and
  • unsought products.

The more convenient the product, the less thinking is required when deciding to buy it. Bread, milk, butter, and other basic products are convenience products. High-end designer clothing, exotic perfumes, or famous paintings are specialty products. Typically, prices go up the less convenient the product is.

Soap typically falls into the convenience category.

However, John Ritz’ reponse to his subscriber not only made sense but also offered a powerful copywriting lesson that’s too good not to share. In fact, his reply used an example originally written by another top copywriter, Drew Eric Whitman.

Here was John’s brilliant response to this gentleman, reprinted here with his kind permission:

I agree. The copy only needs to be as long as it takes to do the job. For more complex products and services, longer copy is needed. But even for chewing gum, long versus short is relative.

For example, let’s take a simple product like soap. Not the Ivory or Zest garden variety. Let’s say you sell scented soap in the shape and colors of fruit. In your copy, you could just say, “orange-scented bar soap” or “smells like coconut.”

Instead, why not compare the soaps to the freshest, juiciest slices of Mandarin or Florida oranges? Or for the coconut-scented soap, why not compare it to the freshly cut coconuts in the sun-soaked western Caribbean, reminiscent of the white meaty centers and the sweet, luscious, milky juice?

If that seems a little over the top, consider that you’re selling more expensive specialized soap. You’re not selling Irish Spring.

Your soap has two things going for it: It’s visually beautiful, and It smells delicious. To not play up the two things that make your soap so appealing is missing the boat. That is what I got out of Michel Fortin’s article on the subject. He’s not saying do long copy just for the sake of being long. And he’s not saying use long and boring copy either. He’s saying your copy needs to be long enough and persuasive enough to get the job done.

And, you’re right: for commodity-type products, you don’t need longer copy. If your USP is price, sometimes stating that fact alone is enough. For example: $1.99/box of 500 paper clips, or $3.99/box of 500 paper clips. Which one would you buy? All things being equal, you’ll probably go for the $1.99/box one, right?

But what if there was a good reason why the $3.99/box one was higher priced? What if they were more heavy-duty, or they have little ridges on them that let them grip the pages better? If that was the case, and you sold those higher-priced paper clips, wouldn’t you want to let your market know about it? Or would you keep the same shorter copy as your cheaper competition?

So long versus short copy is a relative thing.

You obviously don’t need a 24-page magalog to sell chewing gum — unless your gum cured cancer. Or your gum had a special vitamin and mineral supplement that reduced the risk of heart attack and stroke. Then you might need testimonials from doctors, pharmacists, and other experts. Testimonials from existing customers who swear by your gum. You need an avalanche of proof.

And as far as car companies not using long copy, some of them do. If you’re on their mailing list you might get some. Some of them don’t, because of the way their advertising agencies work. (Remember those Super Bowl ads? Do you remember any of the products in those ads? I’m guessing very few.) But they all should use targeted direct mail with long copy to supplement their existing advertising.

The fact of the matter is, most car commercials suck, in my opinion. You see the same ad all the time: a car driving out in the country or some other place. Do you really remember which car goes with which ad?

Did you ever see David Ogilvy’s ad for Rolls-Royce? The one with the headline, “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.” He used longer copy in that ad than most other car companies did. Not a 12-page sales letter, because it was a space ad. But longer than the other car companies’ shorter copy.

And that ad was responsible for breaking sales records for Rolls-Royce.

I hope I didn’t go a little overboard here. I just wanted to say that in principle I agree with you. But I also agree with Michel. What do you think? I always welcome healthy discussion on subjects such as these. I always invariably end up learning a thing or two.

Well said. Thanks, John. I miss you, brother.

Photo Source: MorgueFile.com

About The Author

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Michel Fortin is a certified SEO consultant, content strategist, and marketing advisor helping plastic surgeons, cosmetic surgeons, and medical aesthetic clinics attract more patients. Since 1991, he helps cosmetic and aesthetic professionals increase their visibility and grow their practices. He is the author of the More Traffic Memo™ SEO email newsletter.

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