August 24th 2011, posted by

Tone of choice: Jack Daniels

While most brand writing is about as distinctive as a can of Fosters, Jack Daniels’ copy is as recognizable as it’s maple-flavoured liquor. The Deep South drips through every word.

What I especially like about Jack Daniels’ copy is that it goes against many of the rules you’re taught as a copywriter. This slow, quaint tone of voice is the polar opposite of the strip-everything-back style you see in most print ads. And it’s all the better for it. Here’s why.

1. It’s long

Ever since a study revealed that the most successful ads use short headlines, ad copywriters have stuck slavishly to 8 words per headline. It’s as if Jack Daniels deliberately want to break this rule. And it’s not just in headlines. The syntax slows you down, but not in an awkward or irritating way. Quite the opposite. The long lines invite you to spend time reading the copy rather than skipping straight to the call to action.

2. It’s formal

How many times do you see the words ‘gratified’ in an ad? What brands could get away with using this word without sounding old-fashioned? Here it expresses the mannered tone of the Deep South. They’ve even changed the legal note at the bottom more to make it polite: “Please drink reponsibly. Much obliged.”

3. You really can hear a real person talking

A classic test for tone of voice is to read copy out loud so you can hear ‘personality’ in the writing. Some brands (Virgin, innocent – you know the ones) achieve this. But it’s still ‘we the company’ talking. Reading Jack Daniels copy, you get the sense that it’s very much ‘I’ – there’s only one person talking. They haven’t so much added character. They’ve created one.

OK, you might say Jack Daniels tone of voice is all an act. Twee, even. Like a distillery guide who deliberately puts on a Southern drawl for the crowd.

Yes – it may have been written by a copywriter in New York. And no – I don’t imagine that everyone at Jack Daniels actually speaks like this.

But that doesn’t matter. Every tone of voice is a creation of some kind or other. What I like about Jack Daniels is they’ve had the courage to create a genuinely distinctive way with words. While many global brands choose to dilute their tone of voice to suit a global audience, this is brand writing straight up, no water.

Two ‘brand accents’ from our homelands

At The First Word we have a Northerner from England and a Southerner from Italy.

Neil the Notherner on Plusnet: “It’s not just their writing. You could say their entire brand is built on a Yorskhire accent – one that immediately confers straightforwardness and honesty. By ‘eck! Etc. I’m not bothered. It sounds genuine enough and it might even be a source of pride. After all, people love Hovis – why not Plusnet? Well, they might have to sort their customer service out first.”

Cristina the Southerner on Dolmio: “Please don’t ever associate Dolmio with Italians. The ads are both banal and offensive, if that were possible. Makes me want to jettison the TV out the window every time I see it. Utter tripe.”

This begs the question: do ‘brand accents’ only work outside the region they’re spoken? And if so, what do Tennesseeans make of Jack Daniels’ tone of voice?

We’re bound to have missed some – tell us about the brand accents you love or loathe.

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