Watch your tone

The idea that it’s “not what you say, but the way that you say it” has been around for a long time now.  So why is “Tone of voice” invariably the least well written part of any creative brief?

There’s a delicious irony that the section that’s supposed to be all about personality usually turns out to be a charisma-free zone.  The same old descriptors abound (“confident”, “positive”, “down-to-earth”, “trustworthy”, “contemporary”, “fun”, “empowering”, “optimistic”).  Words that nobody can argue with, but that do nothing to inspire creatives or give brands a unique voice.

In contrast, I was always proud of our definition of Hovis, as being all about “grit and goosebumps”.  These words were incredibly evocative: they immediately conjured up a world of cobbled streets and coal mines, spirited kids with scabby knees and snottery noses, faded posters on gable ends and decaying hilltop farms.  They brought to mind other creative influences too, like Kes, This is England and the beginning of Great Expectations.  But perhaps most of all, they were words I hadn’t seen on a brief before: least of all together.

Thinking about this, I think we should all dig around for a new vocabulary for our briefs.  Banning the words listed above would be a start.  But why not go one step further and try to use qualities that feel plain wrong?  After all, it’s often a personality’s flaws that make them interesting and cherished (e.g. Amy Winehouse’s vulnerability, Jack Dee’s pessimism, David Mitchell’s priggishness or Sir Alex Ferguson’s grumpiness).  Likewise, it’s often a negative quality that gives a brand a uniquely appealing tone of voice (e.g. Ronseal’s bluntness, Pot Noodles’ filthiness or Blackcurrant Tango’s belligerence.)

If Honda can make “Hate” loveable and Three can make “Silly” smart, then it suggests that there is scope for much more variety in this area.

I look forward to seeing all your sad, disturbing, pompous, arrogant, amateurish, shy, lurid, dumbass, ludicrous, sleepy, cowardly, cruel, flirtatious, bitchy, pervy work….

  • Kat Thomas

    Human and warm. Every single time. May as well say generic and flaccid.

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