Holy innocents

While there’s no denying the success of Innocent’s offer, a food market full of good-as-gold, faux-naif imitators is getting a bit tedious now. Emily Pacey casts a critical eye over the cutesy brand posturing which is all around us

When it burst on to the scene more than ten years ago, Innocent’s naive, playful, ’honest’ tone of voice changed the world of branding completely. Ten years later, its tone suffuses much of the fmcg market. But are we tiring of foodstuffs talking to us in Crayola language about how pure and good they are?

’Well, I’m bored of it. I was bored of it five years ago,’ says Dragon Rouge’s creative director of consumer brands, David Jenkins. ’The “no naughty nasties” tone of voice is now generally used by brands with something to hide – by sheep in wolves’ clothing. It’s like being down the pub and hearing something and repeating it later and pretending that it was you.’

Harsh words, perhaps, but Jenkins’ is not a lone voice. ’I loathe Real Crisps and Burger King because they have both tried to copy Innocent’s tone,’ names and shames John Simmons, director of brand language at The Writer and author of Innocent: Building a Brand from Nothing But Fruit.

’There are so many imitators, but that tone of voice is not right for other brands that lack Innocent’s genuine health credentials. I don’t mind people trying to talk to customers in a way that they can relate to – anything is better than a corporate tone – but they must develop a voice that is right for their own brand,’ says Simmons.

Tone of voice is a relatively new concern for brand-makers – not much older than Innocent itself. Before about 1995, food products tended to communicate primarily through imagery, but as branding became more sophisticated, it dawned that words could offer a deeper, more meaningful connection with the consumer.

’Innocent didn’t exactly make up tone of voice, but its sudden surge of playful copy in 1999 made everyone start really thinking about its importance for the first time,’ says freelance copywriter Mike Reed. He recalls briefing meetings with clients. ’Practically every single one contained someone saying, “Make us sound like Innocent”,’ he says. He notices that Innocent’s name still comes up today as soon as the subject of tone of voice is broached.

But tone of voice may be about to have a Tower of Babel moment. According to Reed, the market is beginning to evolve beyond the use of just one style. ’It is starting to feel like clients are learning the right lesson from Innocent at long last. The right lesson is not to emulate Innocent, but to find your own tone of voice and to do it brilliantly,’ says Reed.

So, far from a new trend arising, the tone of voice on supermarket shelves looks set to diversify. Jenkins recommends that clients, designers and copywriters listen carefully to their brand. ’If you’ve got something really great and credible, then its form and function will dictate the correct tone,’ he says. There is just one guideline, according to Jenkins, whichis to use humour. ’Delight can come through many things – even through hard claims like value for money, but you have to put a smile on people’s faces through wit, delight and honesty.’ Ronseal’s pre-Innocent slogan, ’Does exactly what it says on the tin’, springs to mind.

One recent fmcg trend likely to support a cacophony of voices is the rise of cottage-industry brands. These specialist, often family-run brands are winning hearts and minds with their claims to being made with passion and integrity. With their built-in brand stories, they are a gift to the copywriter and designer looking to create distinctive tones of voice.

Love Creative copywriter Dave Bevan recently exercised his talents on artisan ready-meal company Cook. Each packet features a quirky woodcut – say, of a stag with earrings – and a matching quip, such as ’A dish worth dressing up for’. Bevan points out that, ’People are getting tired of the Innocent tone of voice because they are sick of being talked to like children.’

Nevertheless, he believes that ’Innocent and the sports brand Howies did change the game’ and has been influential for good reason. There is no doubt that Cook was influenced by Innocent’s tone, but according to Bevan, it ’is hopefully more irreverent and grown-up’.

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