Blog in 12 2019.
We do like a writing geek out. (If we didn’t, we’d have to think about putting our name out to tender.) And we don’t discriminate. Ads, road signs, mum’s to-do list – if it gets us talking, it’s going in our bank of favourites.
Before we sign off for 2019, us London creatives have picked out five bits of writing that stuck with us. Here goes…
Carlsberg – probably not the best beer in the world
In a world full of sceptics, a healthy dose of honesty can go a long way. Carlsberg couldn’t ignore the critics any longer – nor did they want to. They launched their new beer and owned up to their past failings in the campaign that went with it.
‘We focused on brewing quantity, not quality. We became one of the cheapest, not the best.’ We’re not used to brands using such frank language. When they do, it forces us to sit up and listen.
There’s great strength in taking such a candid approach. First, it showed they were listening to their customers and doing their best to change things. And second, it made their #newbrew sound all the more intriguing.
If ever you feel as though your brand’s back is up against the wall, try the Carlsberg approach. Own up to your flaws and make it work for you.
Revolut – Ts & Cs rewrite
We’ve always been a strong campaigner for a clear writing style. If you join any of our training sessions, you’re bound to see a study or two fighting the cause. But legal teams and their documents are often the hardest to sway.
So when we heard Revolut had a breakthrough, we were pretty chuffed. They rewrote their Ts & Cs to make them ‘clear, simple and easy to understand’.
It’s proof these documents aren’t a tone of voice no-go zone. These are the contracts that set out the legal relationship with customers, and businesses owe it to them to make those terms as clear as possible.
Okay, only a small portion of customers ever need to use them. But when they do, it’s often because they want to lodge a complaint. If they’re easier to read, those customers are less likely to grumble.
Puns should always be used with some trepidation. One false move and you can end up sounding like an embarrassing uncle. You know the one – coming soon to a dinner table near you. But these are p-Itch purr-fect.
They get a smile out of dog and cat lovers everywhere and, more importantly, do a great job of promoting their products. But there’s no use using puns or humour for the hell of it. It’s got to be appropriate for your brand. Otherwise you really are just barking up the wrong tree.
We’ve always been a fan of citizenM. So much so in fact, we took a client to one of their hotels this year to show them what a great tone of voice looks like in action.
They leave no stone unturned, making sure their voice shows up in every nook and cranny. From the welcome mat in their lobby, right down to the feedback form they send you when you checkout.
Considering not many people take time out to complete these forms, it’d be ever so easy to go down the generic route. But not citizenM. Any opportunity for their tone to shine, they take it. And build their brand in the process.
These moments make a lasting impression on people. Especially in these instances where it’s the last point of contact with the customer. It could be the difference between counting on their return custom and watching them disappear into the sunset.
The New York Times – The British and Irish dialect quiz
Our final winner shut down the office momentarily. The quiz asks you a series of multiple-choice questions and will locate where you were brought up, almost to the borough, by the answers you choose.
It might ask, ‘What is your name for the playground game where one child chases another?’ Is it tag, had, it, tiggy, tuggy, or touch (the list goes on)? The answers drum up all manner of nostalgia. Taking you back to when you bought a chip butty, bap, or roll that time you first skived off, dogged off, or played hooky from school.
It’s such a fun celebration of how expressive language can be – how every region has its own relationship with it, and will bend and mould it to best suit the sound and character of their accent. Give the quiz a try. We’re sure you’ll have as much fun as we did.
So, what tips can we take with us into 2020:
Stay honest. Open up about your faults, they’re often what make your brand interesting.
Use clear, natural language. Even legal teams are coming around.
Play with puns respectfully. Don’t take guidance from your Christmas cracker.
Put your tone everywhere. In the big campaigns and on the tiniest of labels. And everything in between.
And do the New York Times quiz.
Religion and politics. Not just the two things you don’t talk about at the dinner table, but also two things that most brands have steered clear of in the past. Or, if they did go there, they’d stick to gentle jibes or statements so general they couldn’t offend anyone.
Not at the moment, though. In the run up to today’s UK general election, plenty of brands have run ads that feel close to the bone – and that, in some cases, have got them into a bit of trouble. Maybe it’s the fact that, for the first time in over 90 years, a UK election is clashing with Christmas ad budgets. Maybe it’s that the state of UK politics is so uncertain, it feels like it’s fair game for brands to get involved.
Either way, here are our three favourite politically-inclined campaigns from brands in recent weeks – and what we can learn from them.
Westminster Jungle – The Times
The newspaper transformed Westminster station into a vine-covered jungle for a day. Images of elephants, gorillas, lions and sloths adorned the walls – bickering, prowling, lazing metaphors for parliament.
It’s easy to see why this one works – The Times has earned the right to get political. Throughout its history, the paper has been known for detailed political analysis, and its editors typically have close ties to No. 10.
And because their Tube takeover is a general comment on the state of parliament, rather than one aimed at any particular party, it’s hard to disagree with.
Manage anything. Even London - monday.com
Project management software start-up monday.com caused a stir with a series of ads poking fun at the current government – with particular swipes at Brexit negotiations, and Boris Johnson’s failed Garden Bridge.
It’s the specificity of these ads that have made them a hit with London commuters. When it comes to observational comedy, the more specific an observation, the more it rings true – a more general comment like ‘gosh, isn’t the government annoying at times’ would never have got monday.com the traction these ads have.
But it’s a double-edged sword: that same specificity has also got TfL referred to the advertising watchdog for being partisan.
A tech start-up like monday.com doesn’t have to play by the same rules as incumbents, though. They get to occupy a maverick role, pushing limits that would be harder for a big financial services company, say, to get away with. Our final ad is an example of a bigger-name brand playing it safer – but still getting a laugh.
Time for a cabinet reshuffle - Tesco
You can always rely on Tesco for a top-shelf pun.
In this ad, the supermarket subverts the usual meaning of a phrase that was on everyone’s lips in the early days of Johnson’s premiership.
There isn’t much to get away with here. It’s fun wordplay, rather than serious satire, and that’s exactly right for Tesco’s inclusive brand. It feels sufficiently cheeky and punchy, even though there’s no real risk involved in what they’re saying.
So, what can brands learn from these examples?
- Point of view and tone of voice go hand-in-hand. Brands can’t really get away with turning a blind eye to the big issues of the day anymore – we expect more. But what you say and how you say it have to chime with each other – or your message could fall flat.
- You still need to make a point about your offering. These three ads work because they’re not just making political jokes for the sake of it – they’re all firmly tied to what these businesses actually do.
- Make sure your stance suits your positioning as a brand. It’s hard to believe in a big financial services brand playing the rabble-rousing start-up. Know the role your customers expect you to play – and if you do get political, make sure it matches up.