Does anybody read long copy these days?


There continues to be a trend towards ‘less is more’ regarding copy in many corporate communications. People won’t read long copy, goes the argument, they simply don’t have the time and, besides, a picture / graphic / big bit of white space says a thousand words doesn’t it?

Of course it’s true that people lead busy lives. And they’re soon going to tire of wading through dull corporate guff in an annual report or website.

But the fact remains that most corporate communications are aimed at people who are, essentially, readers. They’re bright (most of them, anyway). They read newspapers. They read novels and lengthy tomes about cricket, Lancaster bombers and axe murderers. Why do they do that? Simple. Because they get something out of the words they’re reading. The words engage, inform, inspire or amuse them. At its most basic level, this is about output v input. These readers get more benefit from their reading than the energy / attentionĀ  they put into it in the first place.

What does this mean for corporate comms? Customers, employees, shareholders and others will read good, relevant copy that rewards them for their time and effort. Just as people have always done. They won’t read copy that’s dull, meaningless, obscure or ridiculously convoluted. And who could blame them?

This observation is not new. Back in the 1970s, a New York adman was teaching a group of trainee copywriters when he was challenged about the role of long copy. I’m paraphrasing here, but a young tyro was adamant that nobody was going to read 350 words of body copy in an ad. “What’s your name, son?” asked the adman. “Pete Mahoney,” came the reply. “Here’s your headline then,” said the adman. “10 reasons why Pete Mahoney needn’t be an asshole all his life. I reckon you’d read every single word of that copy, probably more than twice over.”

If it’s relevant and well-written, they’ll read it. And if you’ve stayed with me until the end of this piece, well… point proven I think.