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The Long and Short of it; A Writer’s Take on Brevity.

Alistair Mathie takes an almost-playful look at the impact our contracted attention spans have had on the beautiful art of copywriting.

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Don’t tell my mom, but I’m a copywriter.
I’ve been one for 26 years. I cut my creative teeth on long copy ads – those elegant sales pitches beloved of advertising legends like David Ogilvy and Leo Burnett. In the cutthroat world of sales and marketing I reveled in wielding words like weapons, my pen mightier than the sword (or at least as persuasive, I fondly believed). But times have changed.


In today’s media-rich digital environment, the demand for long, information rich copy has dwindled. Popular wisdom has it that people just don’t have the time – or inclination – to read.

Digital marketing mavens convince their clients that online content is consumed with a fast food mentality – sound bites and information bites chewed hastily on the run, quickly digested and, just as quickly, forgotten.

Frankly, that attitude sticks in my craw.

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It pre-supposes that today’s digital consumer has the attention span of a chameleon in a jar of flies. It mistakenly assumes that, because your target is spoiled for options he is spared the choice.


Remember that oft-quoted Ogilvyism,
“the consumer is your mother”?


A compelling sales pitch engages the listener by speaking directly to him or her in a way that appeals to his or her sensibilities, background and needs. Put another way, if you know it’s her birthday, you’d better be carrying flowers.

The beauty of the digital platform, plugged into tools like Big Data mining, is that it gives us the opportunity to define exactly who we are talking to.

It means that, as marketers, we can position our brands in a space where the consumer feels understood, respected, valued and ultimately rewarded.

Starting a serious relationship with your consumer begins, like any seduction, with saying the right thing in the right place at the right time.

That’s the argument for brevity in digital marketing – it’s a bit like speed-dating. But if your consumers like what you’re saying, they’ll desire to know more about you. And, if you can’t back up your pitch with what they really want to know, your pithy line isn’t worth a pixel.



About the Author:

Alistair Mathie

The scope of Alistair’s work has been rich and varied, ranging from large-scale corporate campaigns to international consumer goods brands, but he has always believed in a simple doctrine: Ideas are the world’s most valuable currency—when communicated well. ...Read More