Let’s Admit It. No One Reads Copy

Posted by on Apr 13, 2014


“No one reads copy.”

I hear that a lot in marketing and UX related meetings. A phrase usually delivered to me by a client as if they are reluctantly crushing a child’s innocence about the existence of Santa Claus. A frank, yet sympathetic message usually followed by the words, “no offense.”

I say, “None taken.”

As a still-practicing copywriter and author, I love reading crisp, flavorful text that negotiates the sharp corners of a difficult argument with an artful, Houdini-like wit.

But I still have to agree. “No one reads copy.”

In the drowning-in-information age, “reading” has become a luxury. When I say, “reading,” I’m referring to the act of mentally leaning in to invest considerable personal time and attention in an attempt to glean as much information as possible about a document or electronic screen. “Reading” is the attempt to explore and discover of the value locked within a body of text.

It’s also an investment made without the guarantee of ROI (Return on Investment). You could start reading an ad, book, screen or magazine only to feel like you wasted valuable time you’ll never get back.

The act of “Reading” is simply too scarce a mental commodity to share liberally with all the content now vying for our attention.

It means copy and its authors must be more aggressive to engage us. Prove their words are worth our attention or compliance within the narrow window of attention we give them.

Users no longer want to engage text but rather demand shortcuts and summaries to ascertain its meaning.
Abandoning formal reading, we are becoming a sample and scan society. Prose. Clever lines, fine details or formal rules of grammar are irrelevant in the same way that deleted scenes of a movie are attractive to a moviegoer. Intensively valuable and worth exploring only if you’re already a have an interest. Otherwise, treated as a quickly dispensed distraction.

Yep, copywriters, that’s your copy.

So beyond grammar, the internal battle a copywriter may have about whether to use serial commas or an em dash, is self-satisfying exercise. The real challenge for writers has never changed. The pressure is now greater.

The need for writers that can quickly connect and make people feel or understand value is even now more critical in the age of content. Whether advertising, UX messaging or blogging, copy must now fight to be quickly felt or sensed instead of expecting to be deliberately and methodically “read.” Somehow, within that tightly crafted burst of a thought, writers must convey enough of a message that communicates the reward or value to invest more time.

In short. Read.

But until then, they won’t.

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