The Economic Times
English EditionEnglish Editionहिन्दीગુજરાતી
| E-Paper

    Long copy advertising is carving out a niche


    In an age where our thoughts, opinions and lives can quite easily be summarised in some characters, or a picture or status update, long copy advertising is carving out a spot for itself.

    Long copy the refuge of the frustrated novelist who had blundered his way into advertising and the last place to use words like ‘perchance’ without being laughed out of the room was thought to be killed by TV. Except its back. And this time, it’s on TV

    There will be a seat left open. A light left on. A favorite dinner waiting, a warm bed made. There will be walks to take. Swings to push and baths to give. On your block. At the school. In your church. Because in your home, in our hearts, you've been missed. You've been needed. You've been cried for, prayed for. You've been the reason we push on. Half the battle is just knowing. This is half the battle. Because when you're home we are more than a family, we are a nation that is whole again."

    When Vida Cornelious, chief creative office of US-based agency GlobalHue, had to write that piece for a two-minute long Jeep television commercial scheduled to air during the 2013 Super Bowl, she looked for inspiration in countless videos of military homecomings.

    One of them featured a dog who had not seen his owner in a year, overcome with emotion. Another had a serviceman saying he was not afraid of being killed, he was more afraid of being a stranger in his own home when he returned. That according to Cornelious, was the "Ah Ha" moment; at that point she knew this needed to be a message of assurance.

    An assurance in words narrated by Oprah Winfrey in a spot called 'Whole Again'. So when did Cornelious realise that only long copy would serve the campaign and brand well? "It was really an instinct,” she says, “It was not a sentiment that could be told, communicated or shared in a 30 second voice. It needed time, cadence and a tonality that only long copy could deliver."

    In an age where our thoughts, opinions, lives and breakfast can quite easily be summarised in 140 characters or less, or a picture or a status update, long copy advertising is carving out an interesting spot for itself. Writing today though must transcend media precincts.

    The classic long copy ad with two columns of type, a headline at the top and a logo at the end, with a sprinkling of art sometimes, is a form long forgotten, extinct almost. You'd have better luck spotting a dodo in your neighborhood than a good traditional long copy ad. But, as an expert on evolution of the general kind once said, it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

    Over the past few years we have seen an increasing number of television commercials that run with long narratives and voiceovers, lines of copy to accompany a montage of visuals, stock or not. And more often than not, these ad words dance to tunes with many Zimmer-esque qualities. Hear the violins play?

    Combined they have a fairly powerful effect on highly evolved human brains. Because they belong to a genre of ads designed not just to arouse our interest or prompt us to idly recommend the video to a friend. It's intended to yank at our heart strings until a smile appears or a tear. Or in some cases, leave us feeling more bewildered than we did at the beginning of the ad.

    For instance, Facebook's one and half minute long opus which likened the social networking site to other "things that connect us" like chairs and doorbells. Irrespective of its super expensive ad rates many of these commercials are first aired during the Super Bowl. For instance, the Farmer commercial for Dodge Ram created by The Richards Group, or Chrysler's 'Half Time In America' script narrated by actor and director Clint Eastwood and created by Wieden + Kennedy. The agency is quite adept at the style counting Levi's Go Forth and Nike's Find Your Greatness among its creations. Nor is the competition taking a back seat. Droga5 created a long narrative ad for Puma, a tribute to the after hours athlete. You see, long copy will always be here in one way or another.

    Although they may not fit the definition of long copy in the strictest sense, quite a few Indian agencies and creatives are exploring lengthy pieces of writing in various avatars, voice-over narratives as well as in some cases copy wrapped in a song. Remember Airtel's 'Har Ek Friend' or 'Jo Tera Hai' from not too long ago? And before that Coca-Cola's 'Umeedon Wali Dhoop' and more recently the 2013 brand campaign 'Crazy'?

    According to Prasoon Joshi, executive chairman and CEO, McCann Group, and award-winning lyricist; "We have always been an audio country. People have the option to read Ram Katha if they want but they still choose to listen to Morari Bapu's narration. In our scriptures, for example, the use of music is critical.

    There's rhyme and rhythm. This nation's people are always very ready to absorb long narratives in the form of audio. It is in sync with who we are. We hear first, and see later." He also points out that writing song lyrics for ad campaigns is not every copywriter's cup of chai. "Most importantly there must be a thought to it. It's not like writing a jingle, which is very different."

    So, an idea rooted in sincere experience is a good start, because borrowed truth reeks of dishonesty, he warns. And since a very distinct creative skill set is required, and not every agency has an award winning lyricist in its ranks, they tap external resources to write for them.

    Among the most popular are Amitabh Bhattacharya (writer of Bollywood hit songs like Emotional Attyachar and Bhag DK Bose, among others) who has penned Jo Tera Hai and Idea's Honey Bunny and Swanand Kirkire lyricist for films like Hazaron Khwaishein Aisi and Lage Raho Munnabhai who wrote for ICICI Prudential's Bande Ache Hain commercial.
    ICICI Prudential is not alone: a series of commercials from financial institutions are exploring long copy. But these don't rattle off feature after feature or hurl a tome-size chunk of text on how trustworthy the bank is really. Instead Standard Chartered’s recent brand campaign 'Jaisa naam waisa kaam' puts a quirky spin on its copy while Axis Bank (Badhti Ka Naam Zindagi) and ICICI Prudential went for a more poignant approach.

    In the latter case, the line "bande achche hai" was coined by the team at Lowe Lintas along with an early draft of the copy that helped sell the idea to the client in the first place.

    According to Amer Jaleel, NCD, Lowe Lintas, and the creative lead on ICICI Prudential, over the years, the format in which long copy has been presented has killed this form of advertising. "Often it ends up looking false and is far from meaningful. However, I believe when it does not look like an ad, long copy has a better chance of being read, heard and understood." That is where music can prove to be a great tool with copy embedded in a song. On the decision to employ the services of a professional lyricist, Jaleel says, sometimes you need the minimalism and delicacy of a talent like that to capture the message's emotional essence in 60 seconds.

    According to David Shanks, founder of UKbased Clear Brand Essence and jury member for Longhand 2.0 (a local independent long copy competition started by Grey's Bodhisatwa Dasgupta); "Writing a good long copy ad these days is not about regurgitating a form that was at its height in 1979.

    It's about showing how long copy has a place in 2013. I'm hoping we see approaches towards using copy that are as much about ingenuity as they are about ideas. As Bob Dylan once said to a prospective biographer. 'Show me where I'm going man, not where I've been'."

    And, as David Ogilvy once said, "If you're trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think. We try to write in the vernacular." That's mandatory, because, irrespective of length, a story on copywriting without an Ogilvy quote is like a narrative without the violins.

    2 Comments on this Story

    Purujeet Parida2727 days ago
    This is at least better than cheap "back at you" ads that were commonplace evn five years ago. the "viral" phenomenon combined with ads>2 min on youtube, means google is minting money. On the other hand, since the ad can be skipped at any time(after 5 seconds) long ads need to create interest in the viewer.
    This is good. if more and more ads follow this, maybe we'll finally be moving away from catchphrases/jingles as the major form of branding.
    Uday Kumar2728 days ago
    Nice article
    The Economic Times