“Hi there. I’m a blog. And I really want you to, you know, be my mate. How about it?” ‘Chatty copy’… irritant or brand nirvana? Has it been done to death? Or is the art of making brands sound like real people just getting started? We thought we’d take a look at the chatty champions out there who keep finding new ways to surprise consumers. Here are our favourite five and what you can learn from them. (And we promise not to mention that smoothie company. Not once.)
Milk Wars: The Vegans Strike Back
First up, Oatly. They’ve managed to take something as boring as oat milk (sorry vegans) and turn it into a wry dig at normal milk. “It’s like milk, but made for humans”. What works about Oatly’s chatty copy is that it has a different approach to humour than other chatty packaging brands. It avoids the “you’re great, we’re great, everything about this product is great” angle and instead focuses its energy on dissing the competition, i.e. normal milk, in a charming way. It’s also consistent across all of their media - check out their twitter and you’ll find more sly digs at the normal milk drinkers of the world.
What you can learn from Oatly:
Chatty copy is often seen as irritating because it can be overly nice. Don’t be afraid to adopt an attitude. You don’t have to take digs at competing products to boost the impression of your own, but having a stance and a distinct view will help you establish that ever-so-coveted unique TOV.
“Nothing special” is pretty special
Tesco is refreshingly bold and to the point here. Their chatty copy is exactly how you would want a human being to speak to you in-person. No superfluous language, no overstatements - just straight facts and a bit of self-deprecating humour. They know their value beans aren't exactly aspirational. “Who cares? They’re going on toast.” But they also know what their consumers do care about - quality at an affordable price. So they champion these features in their copy with a tone that is honest and open.
What you can learn from Tesco:
Empathy is everything. Being able to anticipate how your consumers really feel about your product, and then feeding this feeling back to them, creates a community your customers enjoy being part of. Tone of voice has to think like them as well as sound like them to create the most powerful connection.
3. Jack Daniel’s
Spotting this ad is the only time you won’t mind the tube being late
Ad copy can feel samey. This usually comes down to brands being unwilling to take risks. They’ve seen successful advertising templates work time and again - prominent imagery, a headline, subline, and perhaps a small amount of body copy. Fortunately for London Underground commuters, Jack Daniel’s does risk asking for the consumer's time. Even cross tracks with someone waiting with nothing better to do, this much copy would ordinarily turn commuters off. But this is no ordinary chatty copy - the tone feels like it’s from a wise, old whiskey-maker, spinning you the tale of Jack Daniel’s illustrious history. There’s very little selling going on, other than an invitation to share at the end. It’s about connecting, storytelling and brand building. We love seeing these posters on the tube.
What you can learn from Jack Daniel’s:
Define a representative for your brand, profile them, describing their characteristics and personality. Then write like that person. It does mean you can only present thoughts such a person would have. That’s quite a constraint. But the result will be a distinctive tone of voice.
Sofa.com: no couch potato when it comes to humour
Sofa.com’s copy conveys a business that lovingly handles a product from start to finish - which is exactly what they do. They’re involved and unashamedly groan-humoured. “This is what’s happened sofa...r” is clearly aimed at their target audience - namely people with children who are no stranger to a bad joke or two themselves. While it’s not groundbreaking positioning, it’s effective because it’s not trying too hard.
What you can learn from Sofa.com:
Keep it real. Positioning can’t always be based on hard product differentiators. Sofa.com don’t really have a distinctive positioning. But their chatty copy is so quirky and English that it sounds authentic. A genuine personality seems to be behind it. So you start to trust it. Contrast that with Loaf, whose awkward chatty lines (‘...we are all round good eggs. Cool, huh?’) sound self-aggrandising and contrived. You know someone in an agency cooked it up and you're put on your guard.
5. Cards Against Humanity
Most expansion packs are universally disliked - but not these
Cards Against Humanity (CAH) is the angsty, middle child of chatty copy. They’ve taken the concepts of chatty packaging, web copy and advertising and have achieved stand-out by being amusingly shocking. CAH is synonymous with, “I can’t believe you said that.” What they do so well is not conform in any way to marketing norms. They’re doing their own thing and, given its outrageous tone, they’ve established a fairly unassailable copy position. Risqué? They own it.
What you can learn from Cards Against Humanity:
No grandparent is going to give their ten year old grandchild CAH for Christmas. It’s a niche adolescent/adult brand. Look for a niche audience for one of your channels so you do the same. You need to accept you will alienate people. It’s not for mainstream brands. But the world is full of brands that have ‘honest’ in their brand values and there’s precious little evidence of that in their tone of voice. There’s a hunger for idiosyncrasy (look at the appeal of maverick politicians) which brands are fearful to tap into. It's delicate and risky, but they could be missing a trick.