The clowns have taken over

In the crazy, mixed-up, back-to-front and upside-down world that is advertising at the moment, creative directors will often comment on copy that’s been written for them by saying “Hey, fantastic tone, brilliant!”

This is meant to be a compliment. It means you’ve managed to write very accurately in the house style of the particular brand you’re working on.

Each big brand has its own Tone of Voice book, that tells you how to talk in its own unique language so the brand stands out. But, hilariously, mostly these TOV guides all say exactly the same thing: warm, quirky, human, not jargon. Short sentences. No exclamation marks. And so on.

So by trying to stand out they end up sounding like all the rest. So they’re not unique at all.

Some are sillier than others. Virgin Holidays is probably the most extreme I’ve personally come across. You have to write as if the customer is a rock star and continuously praise and flatter him. I suppose it’s meant to be ironic. It’s actually just really, really annoying to read.

More importantly, a lot of the time this fixation on Tone gets in the way of the communication.

Often the agency and client are so obsessed with getting their TOV jokes and stylings in, the offer/message of the advertising is completely obscured. Virgin Holidays are an excellent example of this madness.

The copy will start with some vacuous nonsense about how ‘The waves on the beach will rush out to greet you. You look fantastic in swimwear’ and so on. And you don’t get to the point of the ad, some discounted package holidays, until three or four paragraphs later.

As if the reader cared about any of this guff. She’s looking for a deal. Companies like Virgin are doing their utmost to make sure she can’t find it.

David Ogilvy once said something like ‘people don’t buy from clowns’. And I’m starting to think he had a point.


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