The adjective that companies love to use when it comes to copy

Camilla Zajac

Green Light Copywriting

Punchy. That’s the word.

“Can we make it punchy?”

“Punchy is really what we’re getting at.”

“The main thing is that it’s punchy.”

Throughout my many years as a freelance copywriter, I’ve noticed that companies frequently use it when describing their aspirations for their content.

But why exactly is punchy so often the watchword for an effective copywriting tone of voice?

As we can see from the definition above, punchy appears to possess an obvious meaning – that of having an immediate impact. When companies ask for a copywriter to apply it to their content, they could be interpreted as referring to some or all of the following:

  • short sentences
  • bold
  • confident
  • striking
  • immediate
  • impactful.

Why so combative?

Content connects companies with their customers. So, why use such a surprisingly aggressive word as a standard? This could be about seeing content as part of a transaction rather than something more valuable and complex. It has the unfortunate association of pushing a message on a potential audience, rather than aiming to draw people in.

Just the beginning

Punchy is certainly good shorthand for communicating a particular type of copywriting. But for me, it’s just the beginning. In my experience, a big part of copywriting is analysing how a client describes what they want and seeking to gain more insight from that.

It’s about going beyond their immediately stated requirements – whether it’s punchy or something else – to explore what they’re saying more deeply. By doing this, we get closer to a truly individual tone of voice. We keep the focus on finding a style which is uniquely a company’s own.

On the edge

So, what else are companies trying to say when they ask for punchy content? I think a big part of it is a desire for sharper copywriting. It’s a request to make the copywriting tone of voice clearer and more concise. These are both features of effective content.

But, instead of relying on punchy as a standard, it’s important to define your requirements as clearly and specifically as possible when planning the copywriting process.

Uncover your purpose

Instead of simply going for punchy, aim to understand why you want sharper content in the first place and exactly what form that could take. Just clearer, more concise language? Or a kind of pithy humour? After all, brief statements can sound pretty brusque. And it’s not always appropriate for an audience or a marketing channel. Is it? See what I did there…

Using punchy as a quick shortcut to a copywriting tone of voice creates another risk. It can lead to companies ending up with a similar tone of voice to others. Not great news. Because no company should want to sound exactly the same as another.

Going beyond

When clients ask me to make their copy punchy, I see it as the starting point, rather than the endgame. I ask questions that will help me understand what they want from their copywriting tone of voice.

So, when someone mentions the P-word, I ask them to clarify it for me. That’s the moment we really start to move towards a unique and more effective tone of voice.

Not just about style

It’s a given that most companies want striking content and an impactful copywriting approach. But they’re more likely to achieve this by working with their copywriter to delve into what this actually means to them.

Writing everything. In short sentences. Is not. The be-all and end-all. Of good content! Reducing long, clunky sections is important. However, the copywriting process shouldn’t be style over substance but style serving substance.

When it comes to talking about business copywriting, punchy can be a great starting point. But creating content for different channels and audiences is not one-size-fits-all.

For content to make an impact, we need to make sure the conversation focuses on other adjectives and aspirations too.

First published on

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