Sunday, September 09, 2012

Where Creatives Commonly Lose Their Way, And How Drawing A Map Can Help

One of the biggest challenges in developing work is hitting the right Tone Of Voice.

We all know that our ideas have to be On Brief; we understand and accept that however great an idea is, it will rarely get presented to client - let alone bought - unless it's On Brief. 

But our understanding of On Tone (and Off Tone) is at a lower level.

Ideas routinely get as far as being presented to client, only to be rejected because they're "not right for the brand." 

Partly this is excusable because the client will invariably have a better understanding of their own brand than the agency does, since they are the brand owners.

But some of it is the agency's fault. Planners and Account Handlers can be vague about the required tone (how over-used is the word 'Witty' on a brief?) But mostly, it's Creatives that just get it wrong. This is a failing that's well worth eradicating, since any idea you spend time on but which doesn't end up getting bought, is a waste of your time. And anything that helps you get more of your ideas bought and made, makes you more successful.

I think the fault arises because there is a tone of voice that the typical creative (male, aged 22 to 35) is drawn to. You know the tone I mean. Clever, funny, and maybe slightly daring and modern. Like this.

If the client wants this sort of ad, great. It's just the kind of ad creatives love to write. But what if the brand is something else? What if it's serious, traditional, feminine or businessy? Then Creatives often lose their way, and keep on presenting ideas that are clever, funny, modern and daring. Ideas that don't get bought.

Tone of Voice is the last box on the brief, and often the last thing Creatives think about.

I'd suggest it's worth thinking about it a bit more. Making sure you've got a thorough understanding of the tonal territory before you begin concepting.

And the easiest way to find that territory, is with a map.

Making the map is very easy, and takes just a minute or two. All you need to do is pick three adjectives that, together, define the brand. 

That's all it takes - three adjectives.

Because the fantastic thing about cartography is that you can define any point in the universe with only three coordinates.

Once you have your three adjectives (work with the Planner on this), the point at which they intersect is the right tone. 

Sometimes, because I'm pretty much a geek, I literally do a drawing - either a Venn diagram with three circles, or a triangle with three sides. The bit in the middle is your tonal territory.

If you're thinking that this approach could be creatively limiting...

It is.

But it hopefully limits you to ideas that have a good chance of getting bought.


Anonymous said...

This is fantastically relevant. You not only diagnosed a problem but provided a solution.

Only today I saw a comment on a popular message board about a TVC a viewer hated, precisely for its tone of voice. She thought the idea was nasty and cruel. But a 20-something creative probably sold it as edgy and funny.

Anonymous said...

Or the ideas are rejected because the client and the many layers of second guessing junior marketers decides to change the brief. Sorry to be negative but happens a lot.

Anonymous said...

Good article. An analogy would be the writer of film scores. They need to capture the mood of a film in much the same way. They need to amplify what you are seeing and feeling on screen. They are the masters of tone.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but think this is a little over simplified.
I can see where you're coming from, but how do you define the point where these three traits of the brand meet? Can you please give me an example.

Scamp said...

Imagine three sides of a triangle. The sides are labelled 'Blokey', 'Tasty', and 'Innovative'. The area in the middle of the triangle is Hungry Jack's/Burger King.

If you think of an idea that doesn't have all 3 of these qualities, it's off tone.

Allie said...

Agree with 11.15, fantastically relevant and great to get solution along with the problem.

And an accurate observation about so many ads being made by (and thereby accidentally written for) 25 year old urbanites. Sucks for the brands who don't want to talk to those people huh.

Chizzy said...

I remember our chat about tone and manner in Max Brenner over a regular mocha and a shared brownie. I even referenced that discussion only last week. The 'triangulation of traits' as I've started calling it is a really useful way to define the tone. It does more than create a check list. It also helps explain and define a singular TOV steer i.e. the meaning of one can be qualified by the other, without being too inflexible.

It is really helpful to guide sell-able work but I do worry that too much time is spend critiquing what's 'on-brand' and what's not, simply to make client's feel comfortable. In reality, audiences don't give a shit about 'on-brand' and 'off-brand', and whilst I agree that tone should not be out-of character, we should remember that a tone of voice that helps get cut-through and memorability is more important than anything.

But as you say - and as we have both found out together - most of the effort goes into making work that can be bought.

Great opinion-piece once again mate. I'm enjoying your blog posts. Keep 'em coming.

Chizzy said...

One thing I forgot to mention - which puts into question that value of spending too much time defining tone of voice (for the maintenance of brand personality anyway) - is the evidence that suggests that consumers do not perceive their brands as having distinct personalities.

So what is the point of a consistent tone of voice unless it's s consistent that it's actually a branding mnemonic? (like Coles, Target, Mortein etc)

This is one such paper on the topic:

Still, getting a client to be comfortable with this is another thing so I'll still be using the 'Triangulation of Traits'!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant, I completely agree with 11.15 too.

And a great observation about the typical 22-35 creative. I'm sure we've all fallen into that trap more often than we should.

I always used to urge students to try doing some campaigns not aimed at them.

The real test is to be able to think beyond your own taste and appeal to someone else's.


Anonymous said...

Best beer ads I ever once saw we're written by a non-drinking Christian. Best car ads by a bloke who never had a license. Best tampon ad by a man, best washing powder commercial by a bachelor and best environmental ad by an asshole SUV diving megalomaniac.

I truly think regardless of tone, if you can get a teetotaller to buy a beer because he likes the ad, you're halfway to genius.

Good article.

Anonymous said...

I broadly agree, however the tone should be dictated by who the communication is for not who it is by.
For example an organisation who helps teenagers may talk in a certain tone to the people they serve, whereas they need donations from parents so the tone must be different.