Why you shouldn’t take your brand tone of voice too far

Man putting his fingers in his ears to depict how badly branding tone of voice can go wrong

“Hello,” said a brand to its audience.

“Interested in our products?”

“Hey, matey!” said another brand to its audience. “We’d be buzzin’ like it’s 1999 if you stopped by to peruse and – hey, if you feel like it – have a fireside chat with us about how cool our stuff is. You dig?”

“Hey. Friend. Wanderer. Passer-by,” said yet another brand to its audience. “Remember when you were seventeen and got drunk listening to Tom Waits whilst watching the slate-grey rain fall and the waves wane against ever-thirsty sands and you whispered the name of your first love into a callous wind that whipped the words away as soon as you spoke them? Well, that’s what our washing up liquid feels like. Come on, let’s hold hands. Let’s go home.”

Pass the sick bucket.

You see where we’re going with this, right? The increasing desire of brands to differentiate themselves by talking nonsense?

In a desperate need to be different and distinctive, brands everywhere are trying to outdo, out-quirk and out-emote their competition through their tone of voice.

We blame innocent. Their trailblazing ad campaigns of the early 2000s used conversational language that got right to the heart of their products and spoke to you like you were best friends. Or at least polite acquaintances. The simplicity of their copy – and the warmth with which it was delivered – drew you in and made you listen.

And, ever since, marketers have been trying to replicate their success.

But you know why innocent succeeded and why stuff like this won’t?

An example of copywriting going too far with its tone of voice

Because innocent kept it simple, not silly.

Click here to watch their first ever video ad – go on, it’s only 30 seconds. We’ll wait.

Up to speed? Good.

So, how about that for an opening line? Spoken softly and to the soundtrack of enchanting birdsong, it states:

“Hello, we’re innocent and we make smoothies. Can we show you something?”

Perfect. No flim, no flam, just getting to the point in a way that explains their premise and that reflects their values and products – simple, gentle, natural. And finished off with an enticing question to hook you in and keep you watching.

Yes, later in the ad there’s a little something random about chickens. But, hey, why not? What’s wrong with a little bit of quirky playfulness to make yourself relatable and memorable. Can’t hurt, can it?

Or can it.

Because what’s interesting about innocent’s influence on the advertising landscape is that, in trying to replicate innocent’s success, many brands have ignored all that’s great about their ads – the clean tone, the simplicity, the fact it talks about the product – and, instead, have focused on the chicken.

Hence we get stuff like this:

The packaging label for Quaffing Gravy pale ale

No longer the “Hello, we’re innocent and we make smoothies. Can we show you something?” Instead, we get “Let’s make some beer and do cool shit.”

No, let’s not make beer. Let’s not do cool shit. Let’s not get some awesomeness in our drink holes.

Bleugh.

The above uses 125 words to talk about itself… and wastes 118 of them. The only seven relevant words in the whole thing?

“Nicely hopped, with a fresh clean flavour.”

The rest is a lesson in desperate differentiation. Where, in an attempt to stand out, the brand is forgetting to talk about its product and why someone should buy it.

They’re focusing on the chicken, not the product.

innocent used the chicken in their ad as a sprinkling of eccentricity, a dash of difference. But the main event centred on their smoothies and what customers will get from buying them. They didn’t go overboard. They didn’t try too hard.

They didn’t sound desperate.

Simplicity was the key to innocent’s success. Their creative work was product- and brand-focused and then seasoned with a pinch of playfulness, not drenched in it at the expense of what really matters.

But the lesson too many have taken from it is that it’s the chicken that rules the roost.

That’s why we see copy like this on cereal packets:

Copy showing how Dorset Cereals have taken their tone of voice too far

Just what we want when we eat our morning cereal – to be preached at.

And we don’t know about you, but we just love it when a can of sparkling rosé wants to engage us in passive-aggressive conversation.

Drinks copywriting showing how tone of voice is going too far

Don’t go OTT on your TOV

Marketers, copywriters and art directors everywhere, we beseech you: Please don’t go OTT when it comes to your TOV.

Don’t focus on the chicken.

Instead, focus on what makes you you; focus on why your customers should love you. And get that across in a simple, relatable and educational way.

Anything else is just a waste of everyone’s time.

RELATED READ: Why great design needs great copy

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Want a tone of voice that actually talks to your customers as if they were real people? Get in touch.