Accentuating the positive
So, I was having a chat with the legendary Dave Trott the other day (I know, I know: I’ve only been doing this blog for 4 weeks and I’ve already resorted to scraping around for ideas from other people).
Anyway, it was the first time we’d properly met, and he started by gently taking the mickey out of my accent.
I thought this was a bit rich, given his own East End tones (when he started quoting “some Kant”, it took me a while to realise he meant the eminent German philosopher, and not just some guy he really didn’t like).
But it also made me think about how important accents are. How they remind us where we’re from. How they can prompt a powerful sense of belonging, among others. How we quite like people who’ve kept their accent (at least that’s what I told myself, as I cried into my Tennent’s, afterwards). And how we’re a bit suspicious of people who have lost or changed theirs.
Most of all, it made me think about how rotten (or “keech”, as I would say) we are,at creating and keeping distinctive accents for our brands. I don’t mean on a literal, geographic level: the commercial airwaves now rejoice to the sound of regional voices, albeit often as heavy-handed stereotypes (no-nonsense Yorkshiremen, loveable Irish lasses, streetwise Londoners, brainy Brummies. OK, not so much the brainy Brummies…). I mean that we’re not mindful enough of brands’ roots (whether they’re geographic, historical, attitudinal, visual or otherwise) and too keen to impose our own world view on them.
Back in the 1950s, actors would go to RADA to have their accents eradicated and replaced by a soul-less Received Pronunication (RP). Having achieved this blank canvas, it was thought that they could then re-learn more earthy tones – but the end result was usually unconvincing, as films like Mary Poppins and Whisky Galore show.
Nowadays, we do the same to brands: we strip them of their quirks, default to a standard corporate tone and then try to mimic more down-to-earth voices, when we’re trying to be more conversational. The brand manifesto is the new RP and “Doing an Innocent” is the new Dick Van Dyke.
As ever, there are exceptions to the rule: Paddy Power, Hiut denim and Waterstones Oxford Street branch are all fantastic examples of brands that have ‘kept their accent’ and feel much more interesting for it. Bigger players have managed it too – with the likes of Hovis, Virgin Atlantic, John Lewis, Sainsbury’s and O2 all springing to mind as companies who have their own distinctive voices.
But most brands are bland – or putting on a fake accent. It’s time to get back to our roots and rediscover our real voices. Even if, as in my case, it’s pure boggin’.