Sutherland on ... long copy

On 3 February this year, Victoria’s Secret created a landmark of sorts when it ran a 21-minute commercial. Not on TV, you understand, but on the net, writes Rory Sutherland.

Having first promoted the webcast with 30-second TV spots, the American

lingerie chain used Real Player to broadcast a full-length catwalk show

- a cast of supermodels sporting its products to a vulgar track.

Never mind that the picture was barely two inches across or that

underwear modelling is far from the most salacious content you can find

online; the site is still attracting viewers. One month on, it has

logged an audience of several million.

And not just any old millions: these millions were pretty much self


It’s an event that has caused quite a stir in media circles. Because it

seems like a revolutionary idea - consumers who find their interest

aroused by an ad can extend the brand experience from seconds into


At least this seems like a new idea, until you remember this is exactly

what well-written press copy used to do.

Odd, isn’t it? While ’involvement’ is talked about incessantly in new

media circles, the most involving old medium, long-copy press, has

fallen out of style.

It’s partly a result of the way creatives are trained. From the first

term in college, through building a portfolio, to developing, presenting

and researching campaigns, the main currencies in which ideas are traded

seem to be TV and posters (or the pseudo-posters that pass for press ads


These two media, posters especially, have the virtue of distilling any

concept to its essence. But do they cause people to focus excessively on

one skill: that of on communicating brand values at speed? Emphasising

impact at the expense of engagement?

If you are only using posters and TV, this emphasis makes good


These media give you no choice but to be fast. Every second on network

TV costs a fortune; in posters you only have a couple of seconds at

most. But never forget that this emphasis is only intrinsic to these

media, and not to the consumer.

So it’s irritating when these media truths are treated as consumer

truths: ’People are exposed to 2,000 messages a day - they simply don’t

have the time to read on.’ But surely when, among those 2,000 messages,

people stumble on a rare moment of relevance, you should allow them the

choice to read on. This doesn’t only apply to lingerie. A recent mailing

to heartburn sufferers was read for an average 20 minutes. IBM’s

websites enjoy a depth and length of readership that wouldn’t disgrace a

major newspaper. Good contract publishers can invest an entire magazine

with brand attributes.

In different media, different rules apply: long copy allows you to turn

a five-second press ad into a sixty-second press ad. Interactive TV will

require advertisers to extend the brand experience for as long as they

can. On the web, brevity is a fault.

So it may pay the next wave of creatives not to neglect long copy and to

prepare for a time when maintaining consumer attention is every bit as

important as obtaining it. When brands can enjoy their 15 minutes of

fame, rather than just their 30 seconds.

Rory Sutherland is the creative director of OgilvyOne.

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