Empathy in copywriting - or not

This sign recently appeared on a gate into Marble Hill Park in Twickenham. Why does this fail as a piece of copywriting?

Half an answer is worse than none

Our marker-wielding commenter didn’t accept the explanation because the health and safety risk isn’t at all obvious. There’s a gate, a path, some trees and a few twigs and leaves. Where’s the danger?

By only giving us part of the answer, English Heritage looks evasive. It would be easy to say what the risk was but the sign writer either didn’t feel the need or the risk didn’t really exist. Both possibilities frustrate people.

Good copywriting needs empathy

Here’s the real issue though: what we have here is a failure of imagination. The sign writer didn’t empathise with the audience and work out what they would want to know. And if you don’t know what your readers want, you’re going to fail, every time.

In one respect, our sign writer is lucky: you don’t always get good feedback when you miss the point. It’s far more likely that your readers will simply shake their heads, then walk away.

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