They Laughed When I Sat Down At the Piano But When I Started to Play!
This is no doubt one of the most famous advertising headlines in history, written by the direct marketing expert John Caples in 1926.
The long-copy ad was designed and written to solicit correspondence course students for the U. S. School of Music.
The full-page ad was dense with content – several hundred words filling the entire page. Then, as now, the debate raged about whether people will read long content.
Fast forward to today: should blogs and other social media content be short or long?
Ads starting, “They laughed when….” are still being written. A few examples: ““They laughed when I said I was going to be a comedian…They’re not laughing now.” “They Laughed When He Ran Away From the Basket…Until He Sank the Three Pointer!” and “They Laughed When I Said There Was a Secret to Writing Good Headlines.”
Why was the Caples ad so successful and compelling and still being imitated? For starters, it uses one of the oldest techniques in the books – it teases you in. You want to learn what happened when he started to play. Did they stop laughing? Did people listen?
It also fed the desire of most people who wished they could play the piano like Chopin or Rachmaninov. Caples reeled them by describing how they could learn how to play right in their own homes.
We still need the answer to the question: when people today are collapsing under information overload, will they read long content? Or is it necessary to feed readers with bite-size chunks of copy? Here is my answer: it depends.
I know, that sounds like fence sitting.
What do your readers want to learn about the subject? Is it complex? Does it need more explanation than short copy allows? The answer to the question is to write as long as it takes to make your case. Quick Sprout in its course by Neil Patel and Joseph Putnam The Definitive Guide to Copywriting put it succinctly: Write only as much as you need to write and no more.
I was reminded of that when I was in the market for a digital camera. All of a sudden I started noticing ads for digital cameras. They were always there, but I wasn’t in the market.
When I decided I needed a new digital camera I read everything I could, even long content, or especially long content, because I wanted as much information as I could find before I made a decision to buy.
We do need to remember this: the difference in social media content is that it’s being read on a computer, most likely a laptop and more often on a smart phone. So the key points need to be “above the fold” to capture the reader’s attention. That’s the reason Twitter limited messages to 140 characters because that’s about how many fit on the screen of a cell phone.
Well, I’ve written a lot make a point: use short copy when that’s all you need to make the sale. Use long copy when that’s what you need to make the sale. End of debate.
This is an updated version of a previous post.