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More Or Less

Customers are willing to invest their time and attention on advertising that is narrative-driven and takes audiences along on a journey

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An oft-recurring debate continues to rage about whether to pack in more or less of the written word into communication these days. The controversy has in fact existed ever since I can remember… whether people have the will, patience or ability to read (“plough through”) and whether “less is more”.

Especially when it came to advertising, or in designing slides for a presentation, staunch supporters of  brevity would rise from within the ranks of the client fraternity, while somewhat hapless advertising agency types would struggle with multiple ‘reasons why’ spelt out by the client in the brief and must communicate it all with remarkable economy of  words. It was all up to the creative magicians to work their miracles in synthesising twenty good reasons provided in the brief  into one pithy phrase that was supposed to enlighten the consumer totally.

This universal assumption, of readers displaying their anathema towards reading, deserves debate. In a world that has gone berserk on WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook people are reading much more now than they used to. Sure, a good picture replaces a thousand words.  Sure, every social media post is condensed into the cryptic. But audiences always choose what they want to read. And given interesting subjects, end up reading a lot more. In the same vein, marketing communicators choose their target, and in keeping with principles of audience segmentation, decide to target the lower hanging fruit … those likely to be more interested in the offering.

Social media is today helping selectively reach exactly such targets. Even in mass media, advertising may reach a wide cross-section, but the content is meant for those with greater propensity to understand, respond and act. In such a scenario, the refrain of  “people don’t/ won’t read” or “people don’t have the time” is a pessimistic self-fulfilling prophecy to start with.

Some of the best print ads in the world were long copy ads. The average number of pages in the top ten best-selling novels of 2016 in India was 285 pages. So, it is not that people don’t read. They read what interests them. Six of the ten best ad films on Indian social media run far longer than the typical 60-second television commercial. So, people devote time when it’s worth it.

Copy should be as extensive as is necessary. If short copy works, keep it that way. But if longer text can achieve more complete selling and overcome likely doubts or objections, don’t stint.

The same debate prevails on the presentation arena. Slides are written in a variety of styles. From terse bullet-point phrases which act as cues, to full-fledged sentences that make it self-explanatory for a reader-viewer and enables the presenter to add the elaboration. I prefer the latter, provided the readability of the slide does not boomerang. A few telling images can provide a visual uplift and easier decoding. But given that presentations are meant to be made to a qualified live audience, the “people won’t read” argument denies them the respect.

As Google proclaims, storytelling has emerged as the winning ingredient. Customers are willing to invest their time and attention on advertising that is narrative-driven and takes audiences along on a journey. Touche!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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branding opinion Magazine 23 December 2017

Indranil Gupta

The author is Founder Director & Chief Executive Officer of BrandNEW Associates Private Limited

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