When the short copy actually won

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I expected a bloodbath. Swift and brutal retribution.

But so far? Nothing. It beggars belief.

You remember last time, right? I mentioned this veteran copywriter who went off script, claiming short copy will get you more biz than the long stuff. (Hogwash and sacrilege!)

Well I thought by now, we copy bods would have exacted our revenge. Stripped him to his breeches, dunked him in tar and rolled him in feathers, then left him out in the sun for the hens to peck.

But no. We’ve let it pass. No vigilantes. Not even an outcry.


I am amazed.

Like I said, all the evidence shows he’s wrong. From classic sales letters to vids and landing pages, detail wins the day.

Except – I did promise to tell you about that one test of mine that went t’other way.

Sitting comfortably?

I wrote a campaign 5 years ago for an education consultant. We ran a load of Facebook Ads on A Level results day, targeting 18-year-olds who were cheesed off with their grades – offering a free consultation on how to make it through clearing.

The copy wasn’t ultra-long – just 1500 words. Still, we tested a shorter version – 800 words – that skirted over the detail.

And you guessed it. The short version won – outstripping the long ‘un by 3:1.

BUT – We also targeted parents. And they responded to the detailed version, by 4:1.

What the hell happened?

We can’t be sure. But it looks like a mix of reasons:
…The short attention span and impulsive nature of youth.
…Urgency: clearing happens so quickly, there was no time to waste.
…There was no money to pay – so kids didn’t need chapter and verse.
…Plus, most kids viewed the page via mobile, while parents viewed via desktop. It’s easier to read long copy on a big screen.

So…with all that going on, you can’t go out on a limb and say “short is better!”

There were specific conditions that combined in its favour, that one time.

Meaning, the big hairy takeaway is…rules ain’t set in stone.

Blips will happen now and then, that throw the whole rulebook into question.

Like, the “rules” say you need a big, bold headline. But the most successful letter ever mailed didn’t use one. It made billions.

So where the hell does that leave you?

If you can’t rely on the rules, what’s left?

Well, look. The rules (from the best books on copy) are right, most of the time. But switch on your marketing radar for those special cases where they don’t apply.

And whatever you decide – for the love of [INSERT YOUR DEITY], test it!

One version against another. Because only the market can tell you.

So – there you go. That’s the one blip I’ve seen in The Law of Long Trumping Short.

Maybe you’ve seen others. Let me know.

Oh, and – if you see a gang of copywriters with flaming torches and pitchforks…turn a blind eye. Or offer to carry the feathers.

It’s bound to happen, soon…

UK Copywriter James Daniel

James Daniel

You might not know who I am, but no doubt you've read my copy. If you've ever bought a hearing aid, a pizza oven, flat roof or vacuum cleaner. If you've hired a will writer, an IT guy or accountant. If you've been to events on marketing, acting or how to buy a business. There's every chance it started with a bit of my copy - a few simple, chatty, gently persuasive words. Ring any bells?