We’re used to the biggest brands having a tone of voice these days, but we’re less used to them having accents. Are they missing a trick?
As copywriters we’re regularly working to (or creating) instructions about brands’ tones of voice, but working in the written mediums means we rarely think about the accent of the brand.
You only have to listen to a TV advert to realise that many consumer brands like supermarkets have one, though; Waitrose’s ‘BBC English’ is decidedly middle class and aspirational, while ASDA’s voiceovers are unfailingly regional in accent, make them feel more approachable and warm. It’s a simple marketing trick, making brands more accessible by recognising that shoppers are drawn to the familiar.
Any writer worth their salt knows that accents are notoriously difficult to communicate (although Scottish Twitter is an hilarious exception), so employing local dialects can be an effective way to communicate an accent instead.
It would be disingenuous for a brand whose geographical origin is a large part of its identity (say, Yorkshire Tea or Foster’s lager) to start advertising its products with anything other than its own regional accent. But for other brands – especially national FMCGs with a conversational tone of voice – there’s an opportunity to speak on a level with customers.
Imagine Kleenex advertising their tissues around Northern England under the headline “For when you need a good skrike”, around Scotland with “For when you need a greet”, and in the West Midlands with “For when you need a good blart”; these all being regional terms for crying.
Traditionally, tailoring your campaign on a regional basis like this was potentially expensive expensive and ran the risk of saying things that paint your brand as out-of-touch. But digital billboards and geo-targeted banner ads offer brands the opportunity to do this more cheaply and quicker than ever before.
Aviva have been doing this for years in their TV adverts with the help of actor Paul Whitehouse. While it’s true that a single ad has gone out nationally at any one time, each advert in the series has used a different accent. Whitehouse has, at points, played characters from Scotland, Plymouth, South Wales and the West Midlands – among many others. It’s not without pitfalls, though. Accents and dialects are sensitive subjects, and crow-barring an outdated cliché or pastiche accent into your brand’s ad could backfire.
It pays to engage and consult with writers local to your target markets, or an agency like Stratton Craig that has a freelance network stretching to every corner of the UK.