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.
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.
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 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.