Darwinist rhetorical tactics General interest

On, the fallacy of worshiping the “short” and the “simple” . . . or, why good long copy outsells short copy

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As UD regulars will know, it’s silly season here in Montserrat. As a result, I am facing the long vs short copy debate and the issue of the demand for excessive simplicity. Which, opens us up to be naive and easily misled — including when we indulge the fallacy of selective hyperskepticism. (As in: if you dismiss what is credible, it’s because you have already swallowed what isn’t.)

I have therefore put up a few thoughts, and think they are relevant to the ID debate also. (As in, why is it so many are so willing to swallow short and clever but highly misleading barbed slogans such as: “Creationists in cheap tuxedos”?)

In a nutshell:

SHORT COPY GAINS ATTENTION

BUT, LONG COPY OUTSELLS SHORT COPY

Counter-intuitive, but well founded.

As Business Insider observes:

One of the most common misconceptions is that people nowadays will not pay attention to ads or communications that have more than a minimal amount of ad copy . . . .

If people are really interested in something, they want more. If they are not interested, they want less. You cannot have too much of a good thing, but any amount of a bad thing is too much.

One of my favorite T-shirt’s of all time has a picture of Albert Einstein on it with a headline that reads, “Sit on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit next to a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”

And of course, forever, it is: buyer beware . . . and so we face a challenge when we read a story or take in a presentation or bit of PR work, or even attend a course of lectures in a classroom:

straight vs spin

(For details, cf. here.) END

PS: Without endorsing content, I think the facelift at WUWT, is worth a look.

23 Replies to “On, the fallacy of worshiping the “short” and the “simple” . . . or, why good long copy outsells short copy

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    Food for thought:

    SHORT COPY GAINS ATTENTION

    BUT, LONG COPY OUTSELLS SHORT COPY

    KF

  2. 2
    Barry Arrington says:

    Speaking of Montserrat, do you know this “Arrow” fellow? I like his music.

  3. 3
    kairosfocus says:

    BA: Sadly, knew. He passed away some years back, from brain cancer — a brave fight, lost. We all knew him, walking about in his “Arrow’s Manshop,” in Sweeneys, and on the roads driving in his fav. VW Tuareg, etc. Quite an entrepreneur as well as a first class musician. I remember looking at a chicken on a grill novelty in the shop, that would stand up and sing Hot Hot Hot then lie back down — presumably to get even more hot hot hot. It was funnier than it is to say it. And of course, the volcano is hot hot hot too. The song was his foremost mega hit, and you may want to read its story. A pleasant, articulate, very warm man. He was maestro of the Soca genre, a modification of Calypso. He has a brother who is quite a composer as well as singer — who happens to be running in this election too. A son, AC, is continuing the musical tradition. KF

    PS: I should add, his niece, one of my wife’s best friends, was a part of our wedding. The Cassell family is a prominent local one.

  4. 4
    Querius says:

    Some random thoughts on several wild tangents . . .

    Analyzing copy reminds me of the classic “Ogilvy on Advertising.” His radical idea of that time (and perhaps today as well) was that people read copy for information. Even copy in beer ads. And he proved this in tests.

    http://www.amazon.com/Ogilvy-A.....039472903X

    Nowadays, when we’re drowning in information, the quality and structure of information from a reliable source, perhaps a content aggregator, has profoundly increased in importance. There’s so much misinformation out there.

    I’d also add that people have different goals on different subjects for acquiring information. Sometimes you want a high-level executive summary. Other times, you want to be able to drill down into specific details.

    To detect political bias, I’d recommend the following. Substitute the name of the other side of the position into the article and see how it reads. This can be very illuminating!

    Thinking of biases, one time, I mined five pithy quotes—a complete thought in a paragraph—from speeches delivered by five popular politicians. Then I challenged my more politically minded colleagues to match them up with the politician who uttered them.

    They ALL chickened out! 😉

    Hmmm. Maybe I should do this more at UD. Maybe when fruitlessly trying to argue a point of logic, scientific evidence, or probability with dogmatic opponents here, I should subtly include quotes from some of their own luminaries. Then, when they dismiss the statement as uninformed or idiotic, I can reveal that it came for one of their own heros.

    Of course, I have no doubt that I’ll be met only with more invective and accused of unethical practices, and it will likely result in increasing their eating disorders and their domestic strife, but maybe these negatives will be counterbalanced by the stimulating the thinking of the more thoughtful, open-minded readers here.

    -Q

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:

    Q, Oddly, I was just about to link this classic by the same ad genius, on industrial shopping good buying where impulse and fluff don’t hack it. Not to mention, where you had better have answers to idea hitmen who make a career out of skepticism. Notice his view on long informative copy and its impact, if well done. Notice, too his remarks on the pull of a good endorsement. Your trick may work, but you will have to avoid the classic quotes that are too well known. Mind you, never underestimate the power of an admission against interest. KF

  6. 6
    kairosfocus says:

    H’mm: And more Ogilvy . . .

    Research shows that readership falls off rapidly up to 50 words of copy, but drops very little between 50 and 500 words. In my first Rolls Royce advertisement I used 719 words—piling one fascinating fact on another. In the last paragraph I wrote, “people who feel diffident about driving a Rolls Royce can buy a Bentley.” Judging from the number of motorists who picked up the word “diffident” and bandied it about, I concluded that the advertisement was thoroughly read. In the next one I used 1,400 words.

    We have even been able to get people to read long copy about gasoline. One of our Shell advertisements contained 617 words, and 22% of male readers read more than half of them.

    Vic Schwab [you’ll hear more from him later] tells the story of Max Hart (of Hart, Schaffner & Marx) and his advertising manager, George L. Dyer, arguing about long copy. Dyer said, “I’ll bet you $10 I can write a newspaper page of solid type and you’d read every word of it.”

    Hart scoffed at the idea. “I don’t have to write a line of it to prove my point,” Dyer replied. “I’ll only tell you the headline: ‘This Page is All About Max Hart’.”

    Translated — you have a head plus 50 words of lead to make the main point and hook the reader to come in for more.

    500 words is a bit short of a standard column . . . 750 words (that’s five minutes reading aloud.)

    Beyond, I’d say, a feature-length article (comparable to a book chapter).

    To see why people read very long copy, ask why they read books.

    The answer is coming back: entertainment value and information. Especially if the info can be made memorable and entertaining.

    But, it needs to be solid, not fluff or “take my word for it — I’se be an egg-spurt.”

    And, let’s face it, some things are technical and need to be dealt with on those terms.

    For that, I favour use of graphics, case studies and initial toy models developed into full bore ones as appropriate.

    But not at the expense of key foundational principles and solid warrant. (BTW, notice the ducking and dodging around the FSCO/I message?)

    In all of this, simplistic slogans, enticing words and empty polarising rhetoric just does not make the cut.

    KF

    PS: John Caples in a nutshell:

    Ads with lots of facts are effective. And don’t be afraid of long copy. If your ad is interesting, people will read all the copy you can give them. If the ad is dull, short copy won’t save it.

    Substance, well expressed, sells.

  7. 7
    kairosfocus says:

    Hey, Mung: why do you read books? KF

  8. 8
    Querius says:

    Great example!

    Frankly, I don’t know anyone with any experience who’s swayed by superlatives—just give me the brutal facts and experience, and let me decide what’s best for my priorities: cost, reliability, performance, etc.

    My current employer once used an ad agency that was perceived to be modern and edgy. One of our divisions thought the ads were ineffective and stupid, so they challenged the corporate agency to a contest. The agency foolishly accepted and was absolutely stomped by the results of the in-house people. Actually, “absolutely stomped” is an understatement . . .

    Thanks for the advice. Maybe I’ll give it a shot. I’d love to be able to say,

    It’s funny that you should call my statement as “hopelessly naive and clueless regarding neo-Darwinism,” because it just happens to be (surprise!) a direct quote from Richard Dawkin’s book . . . So tell me more about why you think that Dawkins is “a creationist idiot” to use your words.

    Now that would be fun! 😉

    -Q

  9. 9
    Querius says:

    kairosfocus@6,

    Well said! I especially liked your points

    But, it needs to be solid, not fluff or “take my word for it — I’se be an egg-spurt.”

    and

    In all of this, simplistic slogans, enticing words and empty polarising rhetoric just does not make the cut.

    -Q

  10. 10
    kairosfocus says:

    Q: Infoglut rubbish makes the truly solid stand out — if people can find it. That makes me think part of the game is to drown out the sound. KF

    PS: Let me know when you have such a case — my guest post offer is a standing one, and that would be well worth headlining.

  11. 11
    Mung says:

    KF:

    Hey, Mung: why do you read books?

    You mean as opposed to reading twitter, lol?

    I enjoy it.

    It’s better than watching TV.

    It takes time for a good story to develop.

    I am interested in subjects that require book-length exposition to have real value.

    It’s in my genes.

  12. 12
    kairosfocus says:

    Mung: Thanks, interesting. Reminds me somehow of that guy who used to sit on a stool and read books out loud on a US$250,000 per month sat channel, plus a global shortwave net — while puffing on a cigar. Gene Scott, that was his name. KF

  13. 13
    jerry says:

    KF,

    My wife worked at Ogilvy & Mather and I spent several years in advertising and then taught it. Ogilvy liked some long print advertising but sometimes great advertising is based on very simple ideas and a few words or an image or a sound.

    For an automobile when the VW bug was popular, the famous headline was “Think Small” and was voted the best advertising campaign of the 20th century in the US. A follow up was the headline “Lemon”. Both with little copy.

    So there is all sorts of ways to do good advertising but most is at best mediocre. The secret to great advertising is to have a good selling idea and then to wrap up this selling idea in some short phrase, visual, music, personality etc. which we called a selling proposition.

    For 30 second commercials, just one idea would communicate the best but clients always wanted to shove more into each ad which distracted from a unified message.

  14. 14
    Mung says:

    I remember Gene Scott, lol.

  15. 15
    kairosfocus says:

    Jerry: Quite true enough, both long and short copy play their role. But, the material problem has been to reject the validity of taking time, words and space to make a substantial case. And, I guess that too is reflective of what someone who hangs around Amazon or the like or who used to do Catalog shopping wants . . . substance and substantiation. Serious shopping goods that you bet a lot on, vs mood shaping one liners with lush imagery looking for head space. I fear a broad dumb down game is on. KF

  16. 16
    kairosfocus says:

    Mung: Looks like wife no 2 continues the game, 9 years on. KF

  17. 17
    jerry says:

    KF,

    ID has the problem because the naturalistic evolution people have a great advertising/communication campaign and it is very simple. Simple will beat long every time if it is believable.

    Their selling idea is that certain offspring are better suited for the environment than others because of luck of the draw. Their selling proposition is “natural selection” which is a short expression that sums up the selling idea. An even better selling proposition is ” survival of the fittest”. So they have two powerful selling propositions while ID has none. The interesting and tough part of this is that all is true. But only to a certain extent. This makes it almost impossible to overcome

    ID doesn’t even have a selling idea let alone a selling proposition. Maybe the smarter heads are looking in the wrong direction.

  18. 18
    kairosfocus says:

    Jerry: Pausing for a sec, will be pointish. Have you ever seen FSCO/I created by anything but design — and it’s all over the Internet AND the genome. What is the predictable result of taking a blind, one straw sample from a haystack as thick as our galaxy, superposed on it? As in needles in haystacks for Darwin’s pond — that’s OOL. The tree has no root. Then, to get branches all you got is gross extrapolation of a mechanism only known to make small variations, through smuggling in Lewontin’s a priori evo mat by the back door. Mix in censorship of education and the expelled factor. Not to mention, the thing that killed evo mat ideology last time: it irretrievably undermines knowledge, reason, mind and morality — no foundational IS capable of the weight of OUGHT and of MIND, too. So, evo mat fails decisively, never mind the lab coats. KF

  19. 19
    Mung says:

    ok, so ID mottos.

    Quarks don’t think.

    Life appears designed. Dawkins sez so.

    Design happens.

    Got design?

    Where’s the Design?

    Many Worlds. Many Designs.

  20. 20
    kairosfocus says:

    J: I suggest, too, that the first PR issue is institutional dominance, leading to ruthless domineering behaviour in disregard to truth and fairness by evo mat ideologues . . . much as Plato warned in The Laws Bk X. In that context Geo Washington’s force in being, pinprick to pop bubbles strategy looks best. A credible alternative that punctures pretensions and exposes fallacies, biding time and building up resources. The hostility and dirty trick tactics of many objectors tied to amorality, point to a cultural engagement front. The implication of evo mat that we do not have real minds or freedom — often disguised as “compatibilism” — is another foundational crack to be exposed. KF

    PS: There is a flaw where WP loops on “you have entered an incorrect Captcha value.” I have to close tab then re-enter the comment.

  21. 21
    jerry says:

    KF,

    You are tying to convince me? I am just a messenger with a point of view on communication strategy/tactics.

    Jerry: Pausing for a sec, will be pointish. Have you ever seen FSCO/I created by anything but design

    No, but people like Brosius have to be answered because they say it is a slam dunk that naturalistic processes create it. They give a mechanism and they have mulit-million dollar labs doing valuable medical research so they have gravitas. Many people here live in a narrow world and should not be afraid of what is out there. That is why I said Meyer et al should look at it. His book did not even consider what Brosius claims. Is he unaware of this thread of research?

    I suggest, too, that the first PR issue is institutional dominance, leading to ruthless domineering behaviour in disregard to truth and fairness by evo mat ideologues

    True, but not totally. A lot of the supporters of Darwin are religious and not just Biologos people. So there is major support amongst religious people as well as the sub elite who are educated and have not materialistic chip to defend.

    But the OP was about copy length and I pointed out that short copy when true and obvious is much more effective and that the opposition has a fantastic story which is true in small things but false in what counts. But the average person doesn’t know that.

    I am not sure how to deal with that but long copy per se is not the answer. Ogivly had a famous ad for his agency titled

    Big ideas are usually simple ideas.

    Darwin had a simple idea and it took off because it had a strong selling idea and a fantastic selling proposition. Granted he had a long book but the idea could be communicated at a dinner party or a gentleman’s club in a few sentences. The reading of the book could come later but the person immediately understood the argument.

    ID has similar books but no really good communication program. Long treatises are not the answer though they can help. The Ogilvy ad for Rolls Royce was a series of short number paragraphs each expressing a separate idea.

    Another effective communication tactic used by the anti-ID people all the time is to use the word “creationist” because it is associated with crazy science. It is a single word they trot out to defend their turf against any attacks. It is another communication campaign that works very effectively because it is actually very relevant to many in the debate.

  22. 22
    jerry says:

    KF,

    I keep mentioning Brosius. I actually believe when examined his research will be a molehill not a mountain. But I don’t have the competency to judge it.

    Here are a couple selling propositions.

    Darwin makes a mountain out of a molehill.

    Darwin, what is really behind the curtain?

    I am sure there are better but it is something like this that will eventually win the day. Maybe we should write an ad using this approach. Have a contest.

    Have a lecture series that attacks Darwin with a tittle like these and explores just what can be done with naturalistic processes. Praise Darwin before he is dismantled.

  23. 23
    kairosfocus says:

    Yes, we do need to do some stuff like that, but any such effort would be swarmed by masses mobilised by the ruthless. And whatever small potatoes folks hanging on the fringes may do or say, the dominant core of evolutionary materialism is just that. And, so we have to stand with a force in being strategy that insistently points out the fatal foundational crack, and keeps on point refusing to be distracted or intimidated . . . and exposing bully-boy-ism for what it is, and the role it plays in a materialistic frame of thought. That fatal crack is in the first — scientific — instance is the origin of FSCO/I in an information tech age. Where info is itself an immaterial, observable, measurable quantity . . . at least in the same sense as the wind is observable and measurable. That’s a worldviews pivot in itself. KF

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