Make Policies Positive

Jack Aaronson

Updated · Aug 08, 2003

Every now and then, I get really inspired by a great piece of copywriting. Over the weekend, I was down at the Jersey Shore (Long Beach Island, for those in the area) and saw a really wonderful sign at the local fish market. I’ll wait until the end of this column to reveal the copy. For now, let’s focus on ways to make negative messages sound more positive. It’s time to play spin doctor and liven up your Web site and e-mail.

Customers are loyal to your unique voice and brand. Don’t have a unique voice? Better get one. Soon. If your only differentiator is your products (which all your competitors have), you’re not giving users enough reason to stay with you. People will stick with your company if they like you, your voice, and your brand.

I go to Crunch Gym here in New York City. I’ve long admired Crunch’s unique brand and voice. For those who don’t know Crunch, it has a hip, edgy style. Its brand is carefully crafted with a vibrant color palette (check out the Web site), bold font choices, edgy pictures, and a no-nonsense, sarcastic tone of voice. Crunch uses this voice, and its brand, not just in marketing, but in all aspects of the user experience. The Web site mirrors the TV commercials. Signage in the gym matches as well.

Think about the last time you were in a store. I’m sure you passed a door meant only for staff. Odds are, a sign said “Employees Only” or words to that effect. I’m sure you didn’t feel slighted, as this is common. But walk into a Crunch Gym and that sign reads something like: “Staff Only. Don’t feel left out! Please apply at the front desk.” The copy achieves many goals: It gets the message across this area is restricted; it uses Crunch’s brand of humor to make me smile; it makes me feel included in the Crunch family because it didn’t create an artificial us/them divide; it’s a recruitment tool. Crunch basically says it would love to have you be part of the team. When you are, you too can walk through that door!

Does your e-mail have a similar, positive spin when you explain policies? If your e-mail says something negative or tells the recipient she can’t do or have something, put a positive spin on it. Make light of the situation or explain the reason. Though I hate e-mail you can’t reply to, one way to remove “DO NOT REPLY TO THIS E-MAIL” might be to say:

Feel free to reply to this e-mail. Our automated e-mail system gets lonely. It won’t reply (it’s not that smart), but you will make it feel special. If instead you want to talk to customer service, please e-mail [email protected].

A corollary to using your own voice when it comes to corporate policy is to write your privacy policy, return policy, and any other policies on your site in plain language. Every major site has a privacy policy. Many are still completely unreadable.

The privacy policy at starts, “While we bet you were thinking that this would be some huge page filled with legal mumbo jumbo, it isn’t. Our privacy policy is very simple.” The policy is set up in a friendly way, making the page more enjoyable and the company more human. A stronger connection is formed between the company and its clients as a result.

Fish Market Customer Loyalty

As you head out this weekend for your summer plans, remember every communication is an opportunity to strengthen the bond between you and your customers.

As promised, I’ll now reveal the copy that made me laugh so hard when we picked up our lobster dinner from the fresh fish place last weekend. It gets the point across, is very funny, and really made me happy to do business with the store. It read:

NOTICE: We have an agreement with the bank. We don’t cash checks, and they don’t sell fish.

Adapted from

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