When long copy works

Twitter directed me to a great advert for Dutch railways this week:

It’s a fantastic example of long copy being used effectively.

Often in the world of marketing, we’re told, keep it short, make it simple. And that’s usually excellent advice. But as all good writers know, sometimes you have to break the rules. And that’s what this advert does. But it doesn’t do it to be self consciously shocking, or clever (like companies who try to introduce a made up word). It does it in a sympathetic way, one that makes its audience smile.

The message is basically, saying ‘If you’d taken the train, you wouldn’t be stuck in traffic.’ And I’m sure some organisations would have gone with a message that was a variant on that theme.

But consider the audience for this advert. They are people sitting in their cars, frustrated at being stuck in heavy traffic, most likely trying to get to work, to school, to meetings on time. They are assailed by a mass of messages – stop, go, turn left, don’t speed, traffic lights, road crossings, directions. Do they really need another one barking orders at them? Or making them feel stupid for choosing to take the car?

Road signs and warnings have to be absorbed quickly and easily, so they’re often made up of symbols and short words. In this environment full of instructions and commands, the longer, more literary copy stands out as something different.

It’s dramatic, that’s true. Quickly painting a scene, setting up character and suspense – how did she get there, what happens next…? Everyone loves a story.

And then the pay off, the point of the advert, which is to make you think about how things would be if you were somewhere else. If you were on a train, you might be able to read the whole of the story, or another story, or at least escape the frustrations of being stuck behind a big yellow bus. A built in benefit to encourage you to change your habits.

Very clever, very smart. And all done with the right words in the right place.


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