Speak or ZING?

April 15, 2013 at 8:08 am | Posted in copywriting | 10 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Samurai warrior

Are you a ZINGer?

Alas! My business coach, Winston Marsh, gave my expensive online shop the thumbs down!

On the topic of ZING-based copywriting, we’ve long been at odds.

It’s time to analyse the sticking place.

In the blue corner is me. I believe the message is everything. As I used to tell my Copy School students:

If you have a message that’s true, interesting and relevant to your audience, you can write it on a piece of toilet paper and nail it to a tree in the forest. Someone will find it and, if they’re not interested, pass it on to those who are.

In the red corner is Winston. He believes every message needs plenty of ZING and is adamant I should use phrases like:

Copywriting that’s so powerful, it sucks people’s eyeballs into the screen.

Words so compelling, they leap off the page and bite you on the bum.

Here’s his rationale:

I firmly believe the product or service must deliver on the promises made for it. Then, providing it does, that’s when you really sock it to them in language that sucks the eyeballs into the screen, etc.

It’s our job to really get the prospect excited, enthused and busting to buy. Remember, you sell the sizzle not the steak!

I have dreadful problems with sizzle. Yet Winston’s speaking, coaching and publishing empire is many times greater than I could hope to achieve.

What to do?

Ad agencies advise: ‘If you’ve got nothing to say, sing!’ In other words, if the product you’re flogging lacks merit, put all your resources into showmanship.

I totally get this with soft drink or chocolate. But what about corporate copywriting?

Because I believe I have something to say, I feel that singing is unnecessary (at best) and harmful to my brand (at worst). Surely my clear, correct, elegant copy is the singing equivalent of verbose, inaccurate, dreary copy.

Am I not singing already? Is not the steak more important than the sizzle?

There’s just one problem: most people who visit my shop don’t buy my ebook.

Winston took one look at my landing page and pronounced it ‘flat’. He’s certain that unless I ZING, my register won’t ring.

Should I stop being precious and get with the program? Or should I screw my courage to the sticking place and hold fast in defence of quiet, measured, reasonable copy?

How about you? Are you a speaker or a ZINGer?

If you changed tack, how would your audience react?

Your response would be music to our



Brought to you by The Feisty Empire.


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  1. Great post, Paul! I have to say that I am firmly on your side of the fence. I believe in writing authentic great copy, and working for brands that have something special to offer. If I have to trick people into buying a product that doesn’t really deliver anything, than I would rather walk away from the job.

    • Thank you, Shandel. It’s ace to get another writer’s view (and I do love your company name!) 🙂 Reading your comment, I found myself wishing I’d couched my position in your elegant terms. I totally think we’re on the same page and hope you visit again soon. Kind regards, P. 🙂

      • Hi Paul – As I wrote my post I was thinking, I hope this sounds as clear and persuasive as what Paul wrote! 🙂 I always love working with other copy writers because I think we can learn so much from each other.

        • Ha! Wish granted. Sometimes we’re better than we realise. And I look forward to getting better by knowing you. 😛

  2. Have just been asked to write something for a client and I don’t like the zing – although her website developers want it, I like the speak (or sing – quietly)! The usual sales stuff leaves me cold and you can see right through it. Keep going Paul!

    • Hello, Margie! Thank you for another valuable industry perspective. It’s an honour to meet a like-minded soul. I’m starting to feel like I’m in very good company. Kind regards, P. 🙂

  3. I’m with you, too, Paul. A good message that is easy to understand has more credibility that hyped up fluff in my opinion – more so in this day and age when people are over the whole sales-hype and being sold to.

    As a consumer, I certainly prefer to read a straight forward message and have answers to my questions than have to wade through nonsense to (hopefully) find the answers.

    Having said that, I think there’s flat, hype and a third level (which I think YOU hit Paul and I aspire to) – interesting. Making the message clear yet interesting, as often comes through when you have passion and skill with words.

    And probably the hardest copy of all to write and make interesting is that about yourself…

    • Hi, Tash. What a lovely start to my morning to read your kind ‘third level’ comment. Sorry for delay in replying as I’ve been out of the country. Many thanks for adding your thoughts, which I particularly prize. Kind regards, P. 🙂

  4. Hi Paul, having actually purchased an item from your online store I did so because the rest of your website content was informative, enjoyable to read and I didn’t need any ‘zing’ or push to convince me to spend some cash.

    I am starting out in the world of creative writing/copy/marketing…the concept of ‘zing’ does not sit well with my values. Integrity in writing is what I hold dear and I believe integrity is what speaks to most people. I like to think that if I always tell the truth I never have to remember anything…and the same goes with copy.

    While I have you – congratulations on being included in Seth Godin’s revised edition of “Purple Cow” – WOW!! I have just finished Poke the Box, Purple Cow and Icarus Deception are next. I have also just finished Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations and that is a life changer. We forget that conversations are our relationships, professional and personal, and her strategies remind, teach and affirm how to fix wrongs, address problem issues and basically, become a better person in the process. You gotta put it on your reading list!

    From a new hack to an old one…you’re setting a benchmark for upcoming writers, please don’t change. Your writings inspire me.


    • Dear Susan, what a way to turn my Monday around! Your comment is so kind, comprehensive and complimentary that I feel greatly uplifted. Every line you wrote made me feel we’re on the same page … of a REALLY good book. Thank you for reading, buying and commenting. I wish you every success and will check out Fierce Conversations . Kind regards indeed. P. 🙂

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