As a life-long writer turned designer, I have a long-standing beef with copy-heavy websites, packaging, and advertisements. I don’t fault anyone for wanting to get the most bang for their buck, but I disagree with how best to achieve impact. For me, writing copy is a lot like making friends at a cocktail party. Not that I am so popular, but if I leave a party knowing that I’ve talked too much, talked too loud, or –dare I say– talked too close, so as to cause someone to wipe my spit off their face, chances are I haven’t made any new friends.
The same is true of content. Whether its copy for packaging, web, or advertising, the goal of good design is to grab someone’s attention and to tell them something they want to know. Then (and this is the hard part) its important to step back and let people decide if they want to hear more.
Today, the average attention span is 7.2 seconds online and 5 minutes in the “real” world (that’s down from the 12 minute attention span of ten years ago). So, there’s no time for hemming and hawing about what you want to say. There’s certainly no time for loquaciousness.
For many retailers, the tendency exists to talk too much. This is through no fault of their own, as most don’t have the deep marketing pockets to achieve the simplicity of the ubiquitous Apple logo or the cleverly spartan “Got Milk” campaign. Most retailers have a complicated agenda when it comes to their advertising, packaging, or web copy. They’ve got to flag down their audience, introduce themselves, tell them what they are selling, explain why their product is great, how it works, what to do if it breaks and whether or not its dangerous. In the home improvement industry, all this copy is duplicated in English and Spanish.
So, where’s the sweet spot between saying just enough to be memorable and appealing and being the guy that just drones on and on? Well, it’s not always easy to find.
Here’s my “Mrs.” Manners guide to the content party:
Don’t say too much.
Do you really have to launch into your whole life story with every conversation? It’s not all about you.
If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re not funny, don’t go there. Do try to be insightful and interesting. Avoid the desire to “report” your product to your audience. Remember the short attention span.
You have something to sell, so the odds are good that you know what you’re talking about. You have some expertise, so share a nugget of that expertise.
Know when to step back.
Again, this is the hard part. If your messages are good, they will capture attention. Let them sink in. Give people a chance to ask for more. If you launch into your whole life story, you may shut people out. Once you’ve achieved a level of interest, you can use it. You can send people to your website, direct them to another panel on the package, or allow them to “click here for more.” But, whatever you do, don’t assume that you’re dazzling right out of the gate. No one is.
…No one but Apple, that is.