Innocent’s quirky tone-of-voice has spawned hundreds of copycats, but why can so few of them pull it off successfully? It turns out that creating a strong brand personality isn’t so much about style, but about substance.

Back in 1999, a new brand of fruit drinks hit the market that didn’t just look different but sounded radically different too. A typically cheeky label read:

“Not only does this 250ml serving contain 100% of your daily Vitamin C, but it will also make you more attractive to the opposite sex. All of them. Or the same sex if you prefer. Everyone is going to love you after you’ve drunk this drink. They’ll buy you gifts. They’ll sing you songs, whilst you lounge around on a balcony looking attractive.”

Sixteen years on, Innocent Drinks has been bought by Coca-Cola and they’re forecasting £250m in revenue for 2015. They owe a large part of their meteoric success to this flirty and fun personality that made them famous.

As a copywriter, I’ve lost count of the number of companies who wanted me to ‘make them sound like Innocent’ and I’m obviously not the only one. Supermarket shelves are now bursting with Innocent imitators – bags of salad, bottles of water and chocolate bars, that all want to be your friend. The problem is of course, that unless you are Innocent then simply writing like them just doesn’t seem to work.

Most of the Innocent-inspired wacky packaging or ‘wackaging’ on the market ends up sounding twee or cringeworthy. Take this example from Frijj milkshake; “Get in fella. The stuff it’s good to have. Made with fresh milk, a source of calcium & vitamin B12. Suitable for Vegetablists”.  This comes off awkwardly, perhaps because as a health claim for a drink loaded with sugar, it’s not authentic to who they are.

So, how do you do tone-of-voice like Innocent?

In an interview with The Guardian, Innocent’s copywriter Lucie Bright, had this to say about how they developed their tone-of-voice;

“To be honest, we were mucking about when we started. None of us were copywriters back then, we didn’t have an agency to write stuff for us, and we had this space on our labels that we had to fill with something. It wasn’t a conscious decision designed to differentiate us from anyone else. We’ve always talked to everyone in the same way we talk to our friends, but with fewer swear words. We saw no reason to change as we got bigger.”

In other words, their distinctive tone-of-voice came naturally to them because it reflected their authentic personality and company culture. Interestingly, it also reflects their ethos of healthy living, being natural and doing good.

Many of the most exciting organisations and the companies widely acclaimed for having a strong tone-of-voice, usually have a bigger ambition than purely making profit. In other words, they have a strong Beliyf. They stand out by standing for, or against, something and then communicating this in all they do.

Like Innocent, cosmetics company Lush is a fun, friendly brand that stands against unnatural ingredients but their personality is very different to Innocent’s.

Lush are bolder, more irreverent, downright zany, almost treating business as a performance art; from their bizarre product names (Shark Infested Custard Body Oil) to literally offering up their shop windows as live petitions against animal testing. With very little advertising, Lush has grown into a global brand with 900 stores, and is regularly ranked as the top UK company for customer service. When asked the secret of Lush’s success, co-founder Rowena Bird says; “we really do give a damn.” And it shows.

Tone-of-voice is not about style, but about substance

Another company famed for doing words well is handmade jeans company Huit Denim. This is what you read when you land on their website:

“Our town is making jeans again”. The copy continues: “Cardigan is a small town of 4,000 good people. 400 of them used to make jeans. They made 35,000 pairs a week. For three decades. Then one day the factory closed. It left town. But all that skill and knowhow remained. Without any way of showing the world what they could do. That’s why we have started The Hiut Denim Company. To bring manufacturing back home. To use all that skill on our doorstep. And to breathe new life into our town.”

The tone-of-voice isn’t fancy, it’s straightforward but it’s obviously sincere. Their passion comes through clearly and emotively. Like Innocent and Lush, it’s not so much what they are saying that makes them stand out, it’s why they are saying it in the first place.

Huit’s ethos of ‘doing one thing well’ seeps through everything that they do; “We make jeans. That’s it. Nothing else. No distractions. Nothing
 to steal our focus. No kidding ourselves that we can be good at everything. No trying to conquer the whole world. We just do our best to conquer our bit of it. So each day we come in and make the best jeans we know how. Use the best quality denims. Cut them with an expert eye.”

It turns out that tone-of-voice isn’t so much about style, but about substance. It’s the ethos behind the words that gives you a strong brand personality. A memorable brand is a meaningful brand, one that has a bigger ambition than profit alone.

An interesting side effect is that meaningful brands are often wildly profitable too. This study by Havas Media Group showed meaningful brands delivered 100% better marketing KPIs and outperformed the stock market by 133% in 2015.

So, perhaps its time to consider approaching your communication strategy from a different angle? Instead of hiring an agency to manufacture your identity or looking outside to copy what the competition is doing, perhaps it’s time to take an introspective journey instead. Not to ask “how should we come across?” But instead, who do we stand for? What do we stand against? Can we stand out by standing up?