David Ogilvy, the Advertising Hall of Fame member and eponymous founder of the agency that bears his name, Ogilvy & Mather, was an exponent of long copy in advertising. He wrote two outstanding books on advertising, Confessions of an Advertising Man, in 1963, and Ogilvy on Advertising in 1985. He was the creative genius whose work made Rolls Royce even more famous than it already was and turned Hathaway Shirts into an aspirational brand, among other accomplishments. In Confessions he famously said that the art director should be the creative lead because of the power of great imagery (a picture is worth at least 1,000 words, right?). But with on Advertising he changed his view, saying that the copywriter needed to lead because the copywriter is the one with the ability to fully articulate the message.
By the time he retired to his (quite modest, he said) chateau in France, advertising creatives seemed to have turned away from long copy to focus on striking imagery with short or even no copy at all. I recall one great two-page spread for Nikon cameras that had no copy at all, just the Nikon logo. And I thought then and still think now that it was a great ad.
I would argue that long copy or short, the ad needs to create a desire to engage. Ogilvy liked to say that for a prospect who was actually ready to buy in a particular category, say cars, the prospect could not get enough information. The more, the better. He created a full-page ad for Rolls with very long copy and a headline that said that at 60 miles per hour, the loudest thing you would hear on the inside of the car was the ticking of the clock in the dashboard. Even the headline was long!
The man in the Hathaway shirt might be considered the forerunner to the Marlboro Man and one of my all-time favorites, The Most Interesting Man in the World for Dos Equis.
Even the headline is long!