I recently tried to convince a client that long copy pulls better than short copy, whether it’s in a direct mail letter or an email. I know it sounds counter-intuitive in some ways, when people are short of time and suffering from information
overload. But it has been tested many times – a two page letter gets more response than a one pager, and four pages is even better. If you’re going to buy something, you want to be sure you’re doing the right thing, and a longer letter has more opportunities to reassure and convince. My client said he had long discussions with a colleague about this in a previous job, where he worked in advertising sales. The colleague sent out long sales letters, whereas my client favoured short and snappy. There was no scientific testing and the outcome was inconclusive. “We were both crap at advertising sales,” he said. So I pointed out that there is a caveat – a bad short letter is preferable to a bad long one. Hopefully we get on well enough that he will remain a client.
I’m lucky enough to have worked on what many consider to be the one of the most successful direct mail letters of all time, for The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). I can’t claim to have written the original, just brought it to Europe and tweaked it for a local audience. It worked just as well here in the early 90′s as it had in the U.S. where it beat all other tests for years. Here’s the opening:
On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same university. They were very much alike these two young men. Both were good students, personable and – as young university graduates are – were filled with ambitious dreams of the future.
Recently, these two young men returned to their university for their 25th reunion.
They were still very much alike. Both were happily married. Both had children. And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same manufacturing company after graduation, and were still there.
But there was a difference. One of the men was a manager of a small department of that company. The other was its president.
What Made the Difference?
Now you might think it goes on to claim that reading a certain newspaper made the difference. But no, it was more subtle than that. The difference was knowledge, claimed the letter, and its application; it takes another page and a half to expand on that thought and to describe how the WSJ can provide some of that knowledge. But the implication was clear – the WSJ could make you more successful, and what could be more powerful than that?
Good copy like that is as rare as an apology from Jeremy Clarkson because it takes a lot of craft. I recently spoke to Matt Cunningham, Creative Director at the very successful and rapidly-growing direct marketing agency Digital and Direct. I asked him what he looks for in a copywriter and his list included “People who can write good long copy, and they’re hard to find.” Perhaps I should write him a letter. Four pages, at least.