Saturday, August 30, 2014

Capacity Focus, 91: The fallacy of worshipping the "short and simple" . . . or, why good . . . "long copy" outsells "short copy"

In an age where things are ever so often quite complex but where many want things to always be "short" and "simple," this can easily be carried to excess -- the simplistic

As the dictionary quietly counsels even as it defines:
sim·plism  (smplzm)
The tendency to oversimplify an issue or a problem by ignoring complexities or complications.

[French simplisme, from simple, simple, from Old French; see simple.]

sim·plistic (sm-plstk) adj.
sim·plisti·cal·ly adv.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
 A subtle warning.

Let us never forget, while a baited fish-hook may be 98% good fish food, it is the other 2% -- the hook -- that is decisively important.

A baited fish hook . . .
And so, the appeal to or demand for simplicity as an end in itself (rather than as a stage or a means to effective communication) can lead us astray into error. Especially, by demanding or expecting that everything be "simple." In a world that is full of complexities and complications.

That is, it can become a fallacy -- a persuasive but misleading argument, assumption or attitude.

No wonder the great Physicist Einstein made a crucial distinction: "everything should be as simple as possible, but not simpler than that."

In short, he warns against excessive complexity on one hand, while pointing out the danger of taking simplicity to excess -- the point where we become foolishly simplistic or naive.

No wonder, at the opening of the Proverbs, Solomon counsels:
Prov 1: 1  a The proverbs of Solomon,
son of David, king of Israel:
 2 To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
 3 to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in  b righteousness, justice, and equity;
 4 to give prudence to  the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
 5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
 6 to understand a proverb and a saying,
  the words of the wise and their riddles.  [ESV]
In short, a big part of learning to be wise is learning to move beyond the superficial and misleadingly simplistic. 

For, a great many things in life and in making wise decisions demand more than a short superficial look at things. 

Not all that glitters is gold, and many a trap depends on not taking note of subtle clues that not all is well with how things seem to be. 

Where, of course, highly important and relevant matters of knowledge, Science, Mathematics, Technology, Finances, Economics, Health and Medicine, Politics, Defense and security, issues and public debates, News and Views, History, Theology and Philosophy (thus also worldviews foundations), Decision-making, etc are often irreducibly complex. 

As may be seen from this toy example of  decision tree analysis:

Things that are important and complex obviously require careful, clear, sound, prudent, insightful, balanced, diligent study, thought and action. Education and training, in short -- which are cultivated tastes (just like the acquired taste for nutritious vegetables that happen not to be sweet . . . and while the instinct that what is sweet in nature will not poison is sound, too many man-made sweet things do us no good and a lot of not so sweet veggies are good for us).

Which, does not sit well with our tendency to be lazy and to confuse being clear with being simplistic. 

Not to mention, our equally dangerous tendency to avoid responsibility and project blame or fault to others. Where also, in a democratic age, citizens are responsible to be informed and prudent, but are instead too often ignorant, misinformed, manipulated, resentful, bigoted and angry at stereotypical scapegoats while naively putting fashionable celebrities or superficial heroes on a pedestal. 

A dangerous atmosphere for democratic decision-making.

 One, conducive to the suicidal mass-march of folly.

For instance, we may compare a law provision just passed here in Montserrat (and NOT thoroughly discussed in the public) that reflects a current global push:

Sorry, "fifty million Frenchmen" or three hundred million Americans, etc can be and often are wrong. (E.g. What is inherently insanitary, medically damaging and disease spreading cannot be made wholesome by playing at word games.)

As a wise old tailor by trade and Sunday School Teacher by vocation taught me long ago now, by way of the example of the prophet Elijah, one man standing with God in the right is the real "majority."

Why is that?

In a nutshell, the inherently good Creator God is Truth Himself, Love Himself, and Reason Himself. His counsels .-- as opposed to what is under the false colour of being from God -- will in the end prove to be sound, though not necessarily popular.

Consequently, this insight and counsel from the Apostle Paul in his farewell letter to Timothy is also dead right:
2 Tim 4: 1  I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus,  who is to judge the living and the dead, and by  his appearing and his kingdom: 
2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and  exhort, with complete patience and teaching [NIV: "careful instruction"]. 
3  For the time is coming when people will not endure  sound  teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and  wander off into myths. 5 As for you,  always be sober-minded . . . [ESV]
Patient, sound plain-spoken clarity that calls us to the truth and the right, pointing out and correcting error, is the gold standard for Christian teaching and counsel:
2 Cor 4: 1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God,  we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice  cunning or to tamper with God's word, but  by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God   [NIV:  we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. ] . . .  5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants  for Jesus' sake. 6 For God, who said,  “Let light shine out of darkness,”   has shone in our hearts to give  the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

 7 But we have this treasure in  jars of clay,  to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. [ESV]
But, how, then, can we speak effectively to a world that is often simplistic and impatient of complexities?

By working through the AIDA process:
A -- ATTENTION -- must first be drawn

I -- INTEREST -- must be created and sustained

D -- DECISION -- must be called for on a sound basis that engages heart and mind

A -- ACTION -- must flow from well-informed, heartfelt decision
Not easy, but important.

Where, for the interested, adequate, sound, balanced -- or balancing -- and clear information, evaluative guidance and decision are what are desired; and the smart ad-man therefore knows that,"long copy" outsells "short copy." 

(If you doubt me, ask yourself why there is a widespread audience for review magazines, how-to articles and the like. And, ask why it is that people often seek buying advice from those they trust as knowledgeable. As in, one convinced reader of the long copy joins your sales-force! For free, too. Or, s/he may even pay you for the privilege of joining the informed, motivated sales force . . . review mags often don't come cheap; as the magazine stand will show.)

This is so counter-intuitive, so cross-grain to conventional wisdom, that I need to cite the Business Insider article, as was just linked:
. . . One of the most common misconceptions is that people nowadays will not pay attention to ads or communications that have more than a minimal amount of ad copy.

The reasons most commonly given to support this notion are that people …
  1. Do not like to read.
  2. Have short attention spans.
  3. Are in the habit of reading short messages in texts.
  4. Are too distracted with multiple media channels.
  5. Have their noses buried in mobile devices.
While these reasons are often true, the conclusion that short copy sells better is not.

Everything is relative

Good marketers know that only members of the target audience can decide what is “too long” and what is “too short.” When I saw the movie Titanic, it was over 3 hours long. I thought it was too long. Teenage girls thought it was too short and watched the movie over and over again. Leonardo DiCaprio was not on the screen enough for them.

If people are really interested in something, they want more. If they are not interested, they want less. You cannot have too much of a good thing, but any amount of a bad thing is too much.

One of my favorite T-shirt’s of all time has a picture of Albert Einstein on it with a headline that reads, “Sit on a hot stove for a minute and it seems like an hour. Sit next to a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.” . . .


But first, one has to draw attention by breaking through the many filters that are out there that quickly turn people off, or cause them to not even notice a message.

That's where short copy makes a difference:


So, attention-grabbing headlines, colours, splash images, audio, video, music, endorsements by the well respected and more all count.

That's why a good headline, slogan, image, catchy jingle or powerful short story can help a lot.

Especially, when they are placed where people naturally or habitually are.

Comic strips and books, editorial-style cartoons, etc can help too.

So can well done multimedia presentations, good infographics charts and posters, in-a-nutshell summaries, abstracts, and executive summaries.

But, there is no escaping this one: long copy sells.

Directly, and indirectly.

(I will never forget the impact all over Jamaica of the long-running Carol Reckord radio drama, Dulcimina and her life in Town. [Unfortunately, today, Young and worthless, Bold and Brazen, and the like as Soap Operas or as "Reality Shows," have largely taken over. And news and news magazines on Radio or TV with dubious "journalists" or "egg-spurts" and talking-head "celebrities" or "stars" are too often more of the same.])

Where also, it is always, let the buyer beware -- always, carefully evaluate:

So, let us never be misled by the fallacy of worshiping the short and simple to the neglect of being adequately and soundly informed on important matters. 

Not to mention, neglecting the duty of  thinking and deciding soundly for ourselves, based on such adequate information as leads us to the truth and the right. For, godly wisdom is a chief thing --and is more profitable than a gold mine.

Where, as Paul aptly counselled, the gospel is "of first importance." A point, I will never tire of underscoring in the teeth of an impatient, superficial, hyperskeptical and dismissive age:

  The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel from Slaves4Christ on Vimeo.

As our Lord put it, what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, but loses his own soul END