How to make your fucking awful brand not make me want to gouge my eyes out

Posted on June 11, 2018 By

People respond to other people. We crave human connection so much that we even see faces in inanimate objects. So if your brand sounds like a robot or a 1920s elocution teacher, you’re missing a trick.

A lot of companies add a bit of humour or informality to their writing every now and then. But only a few dare take this any further. Humans can be a lot of things – caring, funny, dark, sadistic, downright evil… Why shouldn’t brands?

You might terrify your board or senior execs, but here are a few ideas for sounding more human that could really pay off.

Cards Against Humanity: sarcasm and other forms of wit

Boring, traditional brands would never make fun of themselves or their customers. But Cards Against Humanity has no such qualms. Their product isn’t for everyone and they know it.

Their FAQs are insulting and ridiculous.

Cards Against Humanity FAQ

Their special edition packs are crazy.

Cards Against Humanity pack

Even their copyright information contains jokes.

Cards Against Humanity Copyright

Oh and they bought their own island and called it Hawaii 2. Genius.

What can we learn from Cards Against Humanity’s Tone of Voice?

  • If you can get away with it, go for it. Insult people, swear, point out your own weaknesses.
  • Commit to it. Even a tiny bit of corporate waffle will stand out and ruin the effect. If you’re going to sound human, everything needs to sound human.
  • There’s no such thing as a bad idea. Buying an island in case someone else wants to build a TGI Friday’s on it might seem like a waste of money, but it’s absolutely on brand.

Wendy’s: the importance of getting involved

It would be easy to ignore a stupid suggestion. But Wendy’s didn’t back down from a customer’s cheeky request. When Carter Wilkerson asked how many retweets it would take to get a year’s supply of chicken nuggets, the restaurant replied with “18 million”. And twitter exploded.

Although he got nowhere near the target, the teenager still set the record for the most retweeted post ever. And Wendy’s got a huge amount of publicity. Easily worth more than a year’s supply of nuggets.

What can we learn from Wendy’s unintentional publicity?

  • Don’t ignore people. Although it probably wouldn’t have done any harm, ignoring the tweet would have been a huge loss.
  • Respond in kind. Someone made a ridiculous request, Wendy’s gave a ridiculous answer. That’s what made this such a big story.
  • Follow up. Wendy’s gave Carter his “nuggs” and also donated $100k to charity. That must have earned them a lot of good will.

DB Export: know your audience and their likes

DB export ad

If you can show you really know your audience you’re on to a winner. This DB Export ad is aimed at no-nonsense beer drinkers. People who couldn’t care less about artisan mumbo jumbo and just want a decent tasting lager.

They could take the typical product description route and sell the quality of the ingredients or the process. But they know their audience don’t care.

There are probably plenty of people out there who ordered wine when trying to act sophisticated, secretly wishing they’d ordered a beer instead. DB show us it’s OK.

What can we learn from DB’s ad?

  • You know who your friends are. Some products just appeal to particular groups of people. This ad is obviously aimed at the “average guy” but it’s no less effective because of it.
  • Show you understand people’s fears and regrets. If you can make a clever observation about a real life situation, people will pay attention.
  • Be authentic and believable. DB isn’t trying to compete with craft beers or expensive wine. It just “tastes incredible and smells like beer.”

Patagonia: everyone’s best friend

The outdoor clothing brand have a really simple approach to sounding human. They just act like a nice person.

Whether it’s campaigning on political issues or telling you about a new development in sustainable technology, they really care about the world.

Their social media isn’t crammed full of selfish product announcements. You could easily think it’s an account belonging to an individual who loves adventure sports and the environment. Most posts are enthusiastic comments about climbing or surfing.

What can we learn from Patagonia’s social media accounts?

  • Don’t just talk about yourself. Decent people talk with you, not to you. Brands should be no different.
  • Some things are bigger than you. If you can become a vocal part of a wider movement, you’ll have a ready-made fan base.
  • There’s a whole world of great content you can use for social media, and you don’t even need to create it. Just have something to say about it.

Google: so there is such a thing as too human

Most brands are realising the massive benefits of sounding human. Even corporate giants like Google are doing it – in a creepy, dystopian-future-esque kind of way.

Google’s AI assistant can now make phone calls for you, tricking people on the other end into thinking it’s a real person. It can book haircuts, order food, probably even keep your grandparents company.

The backlash against this demo was big enough that the company had to announce some changes in a press release. The AI assistant will now tell people they’re speaking to a computer – sort of defeating the point of making it sound realistic.

What can we learn from Google Duplex?

  • People like brands to sound human – but they don’t like being tricked into speaking to a robot.
  • Google went too far. No matter how chummy your Tone of Voice is, remember, your brand is a company, not a real person – don’t set up a corporate Tinder profile or anything.
  • If your brand still sounds formal and stuffy, you’re waaaaay behind the times. Even robots have good chat now.

So you’re ready to sound more human?

Just let your personality come through. In the success stories above, you can imagine a real person behind each of the brands. A company doesn’t have a sense of humour or an interest in environmental issues – only people do.

Remember – being human doesn’t mean just talking less formally. It means showing a whole range of emotions and personality traits. So let yours shine out.

And if you’re naturally boring and unfriendly, just pretend to be someone else!

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This post was written by Chris Silberston