Far too long ago I wrote about the fact that no one reads body copy in advertising. And I still think it's excellent advice for us working ad weasels to remember as we toil away in our underground sugar caves of persuasion. If you can suck someone in your target audience down to paragraph seven, you're doing a pretty damned good job.
That said, it doesn't happen. As our old friend Howard Gossage said, "People don't read ads. They read what interests them. And sometimes, it's an ad." Something that, with that quote now being more relevant than the day it was uttered, far too many of us continue to forget.
So, people don't read body copy. But you know what?
Okay, I don't mean marketing body copy. (Although, if you do, I'd really appreciate it.) I'm talking about news and information.
This spring has brought an abundance of events that required understanding: Fukushima, our recent federal election, and our city's current budget crisis, the Vancouver riots... Most TV and radio news turned it all into mere headlines. Harper wins! Ignatieff's a stiff! Ford builds subways! City's labour costs 4X too high! Then they move on to another brief, meaningless headline, or celebrity news – gosh, too bad about JLo and Marc Anthony! – and they never get actually get to what's interesting about the story: the why. And as much as I love Twitter, it has probably exacerbated this trend – instant knowledge, instant reaction. (Ever notice that, when a name or topic is trending, the bulk of the tweets about it are of the "OMG, why is this trending?" variety?)
Increasingly I feel that it's our duty as citizens of this city, this country and this planet to go deeper than the headline or the tweet. It's our duty to read the body copy, to click on the link and read the article, to seek out the complexities and try to understand them. Body copy is where the facts are, where the nuance is. When you understand that any event has multiple causes and can be seen many different ways, you may be confused, but you're also getting closer to how things really are. By relying on headlines, you're just being fed someone else's version of the story.
Is this unrealistic? Elitist? Just plain goofy? Of course it's all of the above. But continued attention to the facts buried in the body copy is how the Guardian kept the phone hacking scandal alive in the U.K., and why one of the world's most powerful men is now acting a little like King Lear.
Without that understanding, it's hard to run a democracy.