Over-friendly copy can be a real turn-off for your audience

4th May 2010 | Posted in Branding

As it was a traditionally wet Bank Holiday in England here yesterday, we forsook a visit to the traditional Steam Fair on the village green and took a trip instead to a traditional stately home. This manor house with its origins in the 14th century is owned and managed by a national preservation organisation, which is still pumping huge amounts of money into refurbishment, and needs more money to keep the good work going.

We all agreed the house was fascinating, the grounds were an excellent work in progress, and the volunteer guides were fantastic. The cream teas were pretty good too.

The one thorn in the side? The leaflet we were given as we walked in.

Now I always hope these leaflets will tell me something about the property, without having to shell out another five or six pounds for a guide book. I’m usually disappointed, In this one, we got a single paragraph of description and a very handy map.

The rest was given over to visitor information. And here’s the problem, as my companions pointed out to me more than once. Someone had gone completely over the top in making it reader-friendly. Instead of simple headings like “Toilets”, “Restaurant” and “Picnics”, we got “Where are the Lavatories?”, “Where can I find food and drink?”, and “Where can I enjoy some retail therapy?”  Not to mention “Where can I find a short foreign guide?”, which raised some eyebrows.

As a copywriter who’s produced a great deal of content for the technology sector, I know how important it is to ease out the jargon and complexity and talk directly to the audience in a language that makes sense for them. But this was too much. It wasn’t taking account of the age and intelligence of the likely readership. It clearly insulted my companions, which is not what you want when you’re asking for more money.

So today’s moral: Yes, make your messages audience-friendly. But make sure your tone and style suit your readership or risk alienating the people you want to impress.

PS Three out of four of us use hearing aids, but nobody knew what “We offer the sympathetic hearing scheme” meant. Any ideas?

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