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The 7 telltale signs you’re reading “zombie copy”

Zombie hands

She stands, screaming.

Her feet refuse to move. She is rooted to the spot with terror.

Slowly, inevitably, the bloody, walking corpse approaches. Arms outstretched, snarling, it reaches for her. It is hungry.

Actually, that’s a metaphor. It’s not going to eat her.

But it is going to devour her time. At least until she shakes herself free and trashes it.

It’s zombie copy. And somebody calling themselves a copywriter wrote it.

Here’s a field guide to zombie copywriting, plus notes on how to avoid creating the walking dead yourself.

Part 1 Identifying features

1 It’s dead, but alive.

The copy has no life of its own. Yet somehow, it has motive force propelling it towards its victim’s letterbox, inbox or web browser. Some attribute its animation to a virus, others to black magic.

If you find yourself reading some copy and tweeting, “This stinks!”, well, it’s probably zombie copywriting.

2 Shambling gait

Zombie copy totters. It drags its feet, taking ages to get anywhere. This lack of pace is one of the biggest signs you should be running in the opposite direction.

Many, myself included, attribute this lack of vigour to a preponderance of nouns, and a corresponding absence of verbs.

3 Dead eyes

The eyes are the window to the soul, but zombie copy has no soul. And no personality either. The eyes are blank, white, like those of cave-dwelling frogs.

The writer doesn’t believe in the product: this is visible in the copy. Look as deeply as you like, there’s nobody looking back out at you.

4 Falling to pieces

Oops, there goes a foot. Eeww! Is that some guts hanging out? Along with the staggers and the poached-egg eyes, zombie copywriting suffers from really poor structure.

There’s nothing holding it together and you feel one good smack with a baseball bat would bring the monster to its knees.

5 No emotions

Happiness. Sadness. Disgust. Anger. Fear. Surprise. These are the six primary human emotions, and none are evident in zombie copy.

The lack of affect is central to the problem. The writer, perhaps ignorant of the power of emotion in decision-making, has omitted to include any.

6 Inarticulate

Let’s be honest, “Braaiins!” isn’t really much of a pitch is it? Nor is mumbling, groaning or stringing barely coherent sounds together and calling it a sentence.

Many consultancy-style operations and IT companies staff their marketing departments exclusively with zombie copywriters to judge by the quality of their prose.

7 Outstretched arms

The zombie advances, in an attitude of supplication, arms outstretched. Don’t give it anything, just walk away, slightly faster than it can manage.

Turns out you need to do more than hold your hands out to get the order.

Part 2 Survival guide

Here’s how to ensure you never let zombie copywriting take over your world.

  1. Bring your copy to life with stories, vivid metaphors and detailed descriptions.
  2. Get it moving faster with crisper sentences packed with verbs and powerful everyday words.
  3. Give your copy some personality. Don’t be afraid to use the word “I”. Put your passion for your product across.
  4. Give your copy a really strong spine to hang all the parts off. A story is an excellent way to do this, with a beginning, a middle and an end.
  5. Arouse an emotional response in your reader by involving them in the narrative. Show them what their life will feel like once they’ve done what you want them to.
  6. If you would be persuasive, be clear. Ask yourself, “what am I actually trying to say?” and why not record your answers and get them transcribed?
  7. If you want someone to do something, don’t say “if”. The conditional mood is not persuasive. Issue commands using the imperative mood.

And if all else fails, pull out a .45 and let the zombie have it—right, smack between the eyes.

Categories: Advertising copywriting, Business-to-business, Content marketing, Corporate copywriting, Email copywriting, Hall of shame, Marketing Copywriting, Selling, Social media, Structural tools, and Style.

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