When you’re talking copy, small things matter too

CCTV signRegular readers will be aware that a fair proportion of my blog posts seem to have been inspired by trips to the local shops. It’s been a while though, so here’s another.

I was on a rare trip to the Sainsbury’s booze aisle yesterday when I spotted this sign.

I think it’s a good example of why businesses need to pay attention to all their copy.

The sign says: “For your safety and security this area is monitored by CCTV”. What’s wrong with it? Quite simply, I don’t think it’s open enough, and I don’t think it does anything to strengthen the Sainsbury’s brand.

Tell the truth

This sign is, admittedly, a small detail when compared to the Sainsbury’s website, TV adverts or even the more prominent signs in the store. But these details count.

A business as big as Sainsbury’s has thousands of these small pieces of text – on signs and in leaflets, online and in stores. By itself, each is a tiny thing. But together, their impact on people’s perception of the brand can be significant.

And even if the overall effect is neutral, they’re still missing a trick; each of these less-significant bits of copy is a chance to reinforce the values the company wants to communicate to its customers.

I think this particular sign is misleading too. Sainsbury’s doesn’t have cameras covering its beer, wine and spirits for the protection of customers. It’s for the protection of its revenue. I think they should be straight, and just admit that.

Want to be seen as a fun, company? Then try: “You’re on CCTV. It’s there to catch thieves, but we don’t mind if you want to pretend you’re on the telly too.”

Looking to be professional, but not too impersonal? How about: “This aisle is covered by CCTV. It helps us prevent theft – and that keeps our costs down, allowing us to sell you cheaper food.”

I think maybe that second approach would be a good one for Sainsbury’s. It admits that the CCTV is there to stop people nicking vodka. But it also explains the direct benefit to the customer: by reducing theft, the company is reducing the cost of losses which get passed to its customers. Everyone wins. And the customers know about it.

Finally, it communicates everything in a friendly, down-to-earth and (crucially) honest way. It’s turned a dull sign into a positive piece of branding for the store.

Everything counts

See, this is the thing. If you want to create a great brand, you have to think about your values every single time you communicate with customers.

Focusing on the big headlines and neglecting the areas which seem less important is a mistake. It’s like making your shop look amazing from the outside, but then never bothering to clean inside or arrange the products properly on the shelves.

(As an aside, the first thing Sainsbury’s should do is decide if a CCTV sign is worth having at all. Does it cut theft? If not, they should get rid of it, so customers spend less time wondering where the cameras are, and more time wondering which wine to buy.)

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