Copywriting in the toilet

Something’s wrong with this notice

Cleaners' notice in the toilet

Copywriting in the toilet

No, I’m not talking about the missing colon, which, by the way, almost had me doing the opposite of what sign wanted straightaway as I tried one-handed to correct its sloppy grammar. What struck me was the similarity to a common error which occurs in copywriting. Now, pedantic as I may be, I’m not posting this to have a go at the cleaners’ copywriting skills (mainly because I don’t want them to start criticising my cleaning skills).

This problem here, as with a lot of marketing copywriting is the mixed messaging.

Please leave this toilet as you would wish to find it “clean”, combines two writing techniques but fails as it doesn’t let either achieve its full potential.

The notice starts off with “leave this toilet as you would wish to find it”. This technique is suggestion, and it is quite common in copywriting. Obviously the wet-footed toilet visitor would wish to find the toilet clean. So the technique works by appealing to the reader’s common sense and allowing them to think they’ve arrived at the conclusion by themselves. This is great, they feel empowered and do what was intended, whether that was “buy your product”, “book a holiday” or “even watch where they’re going”.

But the cleaners didn’t settle for this one powerful persuasion technique, they went ahead and combined it with another. The imperative: “leave this bathroom clean”. No beating around the bush, just straight in there with an order. This is an often used technique as well, “sign up now”, “book before blah, blah” or “enter credit card detail to access this site”.

So what can we learn here?

Keep your messaging simple. This can get difficult, as your precisely worded, pithy and bitingly poignant copy does the rounds of sign-off and everyone who’s ever been to school thinks they can write as well as you. But by keeping it simple and focussed, the message remains smooth and lean and hit its mark rather than being laden down with every sales technique in the book.

Maybe I should mention this to the cleaners so as they can write more effective notices, or maybe I should just watch my aim and stop looking at my phone for five minutes so as they don’t need to.

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