…or why you should never make assumptions about your audience

“I’ve got a website that’s doing very well,” she said. “But now, I want to target the gay market – the same service, but positioned differently. So I’m going to launch a second site, with copy aimed specifically at them.” I was intrigued. How was it going to differ from the copy on her original site? “I want to camp it up,” said Mary (not her real name). “You know – Auntie Mary is here to help. Make it a bit more fun.” At that point, I knew the project’s chances of success were slim. The reasons were simple, and I ran through them with Mary:
  • The service she was offering had nothing to do with being gay or straight. It wasn’t accommodation or holidays, dating or counselling. Clients might happen to be gay. They might also happen to be left-handed or Sagittarians.
  • The business wasn’t gay-owned or gay-run. It was gay-friendly, which is simply another way of saying not prejudiced – and that’s a difficult sell.
  • Most importantly, it makes sweeping assumptions about the audience. For every gay person who responds to camp copy, there’ll be one (or possibly many) who are turned off by it. It breaks a fundamental rule of copywriting: never patronise your reader.
“I see,” said Mary. But a little voice told me she didn’t. “I’ll have to think about that,” she said. “I’ll be in touch.” Somehow, I don’t think she will.