Leverage the beverage. What drinks brands can tell us about tone of voice.
Updated: Jan 26
When it comes to tone of voice, one beverage brand is known as a pioneer. Whether it’s on the bottom of their bottles or tweets about Great British Bake Off, they always have something funny to say. You know who I’m talking about.
Of course, not every brand can be Innocent. As the popularity of tone of voice brands has grown, beverage brands have had to work harder to be distinctive. Trying to replicate Innocent’s quirky humour should be avoided at all costs.
So, what can we learn from beverage brands trying to build personality through their copy?
1. Choose words with care
Whether your tone is offbeat or brimming with attitude, the language you use is obviously going to make a huge difference.
Pukka tea go to as much lengths to get their tone right as their tea flavours. “A rollercoaster of sweetness”, “carefully concocted, “minty brilliance”. The language is evocative, and adds richness to the experience of their infusions. There's sensory language, 'goose-bumps'. There's carefully copywritten alliteration. There's slightly odd syntax, 'minty brilliance'. I’m not sure what a rollercoaster of sweetness is exactly, but it sounds more fun than a sweet tea.
2. There’s more to tone than language
For me, and probably many others, water is just water. Many brands will tell you the very spring the water is sourced from, but no one really cares, as long as it’s not from a swamp.
A straightforward product (that you could just get from a tap) requires clever marketing. Smartwater keep their voice simple in a science-y sort of way. Their copy highlights the benefits of electrolytes, without going OTT.
The writers know that it’s not enough just to say clever or smart, you’ve got to show clever or smart. “PH levels can greatly affect the taste of water” shows that tone is about more than language. Stories and specifics are as important as words. Without evidencing what makes it ‘smart’, their copy would be lacking in persuasive power.
3. Know how to show your values
Flavoured gins have taken off in the last few years – and Warner’s have plenty to offer (including an intriguing honeybee gin). They pride themselves on using real ingredients and their honesty is refreshing. They don’t romanticise the process but emphasise the hard graft that goes into making their product.
Passionate is a popular value that crops up in a lot of tone of voice guides, but rarely does anyone pull it off. There are some lovely examples on Warner’s website of where their passion genuinely shines through: ‘Never taking shortcuts’, “Beating ourselves up to make everything sustainable” and ‘This isn’t bleedin’ rocket science. It’s in our interest to look after the land, and everything that sustains it.’
Same with bold. They’re not afraid to be a bit sweary to get their point across.
4. Be creative with language
If making up your own words was good enough for Shakespeare (eyeball, buzzer, unreal), surely brands can have a go.
On the whole, Ribena’s copy is friendly and upbeat, sprinkled with words that add a fruity flavour. Whether it’s describing their drinks as ‘berry-licious’ or using a completely made-up word like ‘ribenariness’.
5. Beat the blandness
I’m not a big drinker. If you sent me down the wine aisle in Tesco, I’d probably say they all look the same. Wine is an excellent example of where brands need to compete in a crowded market. Without making an effort to stand out, bottles blend in with the rest.
Barefoot's copy reads like an SEO exercise. Extremely bland and packed with phrases that are just ticking boxes. As you can see, they’re essentially claiming their red wines go with anything…
Now compare Barefoot’s blandness to a bolder brand. Nineteen Crimes is a wine brand determined to stand out from the shelf. The copy is strongly story-based and the language captures the 19th century world they want to evoke. They’ve really run with the idea and their tone of voice runs through everything they write. Even their ID page when you first land on the site.
6. Embrace your quirks (or errors of judgement)
Sometimes you have to play to your weaknesses. Old Mout know this feeling all too well – no one knows how to say their name. Instead of changing their name and risking what they’ve spent years building, they’ve gone for it and embraced it. Along the way, mentioning it has become part of their brand.
Is it a bit pedantic? Possibly. But it makes you remember them. I’ll still probably continue to say their name wrong though.
7. Chat like your reader
Back to tea. Yorkshire Tea do a good job all round with their copy. Their tone of voice is just how their drinkers would speak – the people that like “a proper brew” as they call it.
You can just imagine tea drinkers having the Miffy or Tiffy argument and debating whether a teapot is a necessity or not.
And tea drinkers being a broad church they're prepared to go beyond the day-to-day and reference the Montagues and the Capulets.
7. Never miss an opportunity
With messages on the bottom of their cartons, Innocent were indeed the first to seek out every tone of voice opportunity. However, there’s no harm in adding extra messages if they reflect your tone of voice and you’ve got some spare space for some words.
Coffee chain, Puccino’s, always find a way to add a bit of their tone of voice to their packaging, whether it’s on a takeaway coffee cup, packet of sweetener or even their ‘stupid little biscuit’. A coffee cup doesn’t have to be smothered with the logo to be memorable.
Yes, Innocent may have been a tone of voice pioneer, but there are plenty of ways to make your brand stand out. Readers want something refreshing, not another cheeky message on the bottom of a bottle, no matter what product or service you’re writing for.
Think beyond language. Beat the blandness. Embrace your quirks and chat like your reader. Remember that what you say is just as important as how you say it. To paraphrase a well-known telecoms brand: be less Innocent.