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Please Do Not Slam The Door (Or Why Negative Calls to Action Bite)



Once upon a time I worked in a cubicle right next to a door that was always being slammed. The door had a sign on it that looked exactly like this:

Why negative calls to action bite

It was just a simple sign printed on 8.5 x 11″ copy paper and taped to the door’s glass. I don’t know how or when the sign was placed there, because it predated me. But as the employee who sat closest to that door for two and a half years, I can tell you why someone put it there.

Now, the way the sign was written, you might think my coworkers were rowdy thugs with anger management issues. I mean, it reads like a helpless plea to the evildoers to stop doing evil. (Because, yeah, that always works.) However, the real problem was that the door was extremely lightweight and had no hydraulic door closer to prevent it from pounding into the frame. So when polite people shut that door with normal force, they’d unwittingly let loose a terrifying BANG!!! every time.

Those who used the door frequently caught on after the first slam or two and remembered to use a lighter touch next time, but visitors from other departments (and the oblivious) kept slamming away. I was popping ibuprofen like candy.

No offense to the sign’s original creator, but I blame ineffective copy. More specifically, an explanation-less, negative call to action. Want to know what’s going through the audience’s mind when they read “Please Do Not Slam The Door?” They’re all thinking, “I never had any intention of doing such a thing!”

And then they proceed to slam the freaking door.

There’s a lesson for copywriters in all of this: When you’re not getting the results you want from your copy, it’s time to reframe the message. Doesn’t matter if you’re penning an autoresponder, writing an ad, or posting a warning a sign. My recommendation is to make sure your call to action includes two parts:

  • Positive instruction
  • A compelling reason


I submit to you two revised versions of the door sign:

A kitten dies every time this door is slammed. Close it gently.


This door requires a light touch. Please close it quietly.


I prefer the first revision, personally. But if your sense of humor is slightly less twisted than my own, the second could work nicely. Notice that both of the new signs give the reader a positively framed instruction asking them to do something (as opposed to not doing something else) and a reason to perform the call to action that doesn’t imply the reader is at fault.


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3 Responses so far.

  1. Len Berry says:

    One way you can look at negative calls to action is like the flaw of yelling, “Don’t look down.” That line contains the subconscious command, “look down,” which creates a negative result.

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