Let’s talk about tone of voice.

tin canJust as every individual has their own personality, so does every brand. Some clients want simple copy written in Plain English. Others are brave enough to express their personality through their words. In one week, I was excited to write very different copy for a fashion-forward hairdresser, a family-friendly coffee supplier and a young, funky housewares retailer.

Clients sometimes ask me to produce a tone-of-voice manual to match their visual brand guidelines. It includes an analysis of their competitors’ language, and suggests a list of words and phrases to use or avoid to express their uniqueness while making them stand out from the rest and appealing to their target audience.

During these conversations, the fun and friendly tone of voice used by Innocent Drinks is often held up as a model.

But has this approach gone too far?

A light touch of humour is all very well, but it’s not funny when the language stops being friendly and helpful and starts being patronising and annoying.

Here are some web services that talk to users in a tone which could cross the line between informal and inappropriate.

SlackAlmost there


Maybe the good people at MailChimp have been watching the genius TV show that was Fawlty Towers, which famously mixed up the letters in the hotel sign for every episode.

Fawlty Towers

Today, while you’re waiting to log on to MailChimp, a bunch of alternative names scroll by, such as:


I wouldn’t mind a bit of variety in the standard ‘success’ message once an email has been scheduled:

Rock on



I love this call to action by The Book of Everyone, because it ‘does what it says on the tin’. The only thing I’d change is the button wording to be in keeping with the rest e.g. “OK” or “Go on then”.

Book of everyone 1

Here’s some more copy from the same site. This is my favourite tone of voice to read (and write).
Book of Everyone 2

On social media, it’s definitely acceptable for a brand to show personality and humour, especially when led by the customer, as in the examples below. Unless the account is operated by a bot, it’s also nice to add your name or initials preceded by a circumflex (that’s the little ‘hat’ on top of number 6 on your keyboard) e.g. ^JB

Sainsbury 2Sainsbury 1

P.S. Here’s a fascinating insight into the copy style used at Innocent Drinks.












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