Tabs, Tarantulas and the Power of TOV

For you Too Long ; Didn’t Read people:

  • Tone of Voice is the simplest and cheapest way of brand building while giving your customers more than they expect
  • Clever use of Tone of Voice can create a brand universe in a few words
  • If you only look at one brand for TOV, make it The Rochambeau Club
  • ‘Human’ is not a tone of voice descriptor and bad news but ChatGPT cannot TOV
  • Wanna chat TOV? There’s nothing I’d love more. Email me at and we’ll take it from there. 

I have a tab problem and I don’t care who knows it. I thought this tabulous issue could be traced back to a particular inciting incident that had occurred at an earlier, more carefree time in my life. However, the more I looked, the clearer it was… and the truth was, well. Obsessive. 

I’m drowning in tabs, but it’s for a good cause – Tone of Voice. Hidden under the thousands of tabs are volcanic examples of the art of voice. TOVs so good I want – no need – to keep them in my desktop pocket. So good, I don’t care that it takes me an extra 25 seconds to launch a Zoom window. So good, my laptop is a deep sea diver with a vice-like grip on the power cable, relying on it entirely for life support. 

That’s all fine, but what’s it got to do with the tone of tarantulas? While planning a recent trip to California, I stumbled upon an interesting spot in the Mojave Desert. Taken in by the images of a cosy campsite in the wilderness, endless skies and stars bejewelling the night sky, I booked a stay. When much to my horror, the confirmation email came through from one Tarantula Ranch, I picked myself up off the floor and promptly messaged the owner to ask whether the clue was in the name and as a certified arachnophobe with a bad track record of meeting tarantulas in the wild, whether I should make plans elsewhere. His reply was everything I needed and more. Apparently, he had seen only two in his many years there. The name came from his desire to attract the right type of customer and set expectations for a rugged stay in the wilderness. Are you okay with a low level tarantula threat? Then you’ll probably be okay with the loo being an actual latrine and a shower that’s essentially a hose in a shed with no roof. With two words that double as the name of his business, his clever use of Tone of Voice conjures a universe, attracts the right type of audience and sets expectations. Genius! 

That’s the magic of tone. Tone of voice is the simplest and most cost effective way of building a universe for your brand while giving customers more than they expect. It’s immersive placemaking using the power of words (which you have to use anyway). It’s the energy you bring to the world, the personality of your brand that works with visuals to communicate your vision. 

So in the game of tones, which ones are worth keeping tabs on?

  • There’s Katkin, the cute, posh cat food brand with attitude for pampered kitties of Instagram ruling the pet food industry with the tone of voice cats deserve. 
  • Reformation, the original cool girl brand selling sustainable clothing with deadpan humour such as with the tagline ‘being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We’re #2.’ Founder Yael Aflalo says Reformation is ‘altruism and narcissism combined’ which is more than evident in their self-aware TOV. The genius of this is in two places – nonchalance and consistency, the combination of which has cemented Reformation as a brand of a generation. 
  • Hello Palace Skateboards, who use the boring real estate of product descriptors to go deep-deep on personality. It’s hard to choose one example, but this pink shirt with the description ‘2% of all proceeds of this shirt go towards banning illustrators with tote bags coming into the Palace shop’ is excellent, as is this purple tee with a simply perfect Weetabix-featuring fit, as is this orange-the-fruit burn orange-the-colour funnel neck top. Look through the whole site and report back to me with your faves please. 
  • Not a huge brand with a ginormous budget? Not a problem. Sprinkle a dash of bold tone of voice and you’re good to go. London-based rosé wine brand The Rochambeau Club positions itself as a ‘prestigious but welcoming members-only institution located in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of the French Riviera.” Its Instagram posts feature sumptuous design and tally-ho vim, with captions like: 

Absolutely none of it is true. They sell rosé by the half case, and that’s it. There’s no such thing as The Rochambeau Club as a club per se. But the tone of voice cleverly builds a brand world entirely out of words to promote their product, making it a runaway success with audiences and media alike. It’s aspirational, imaginative and invites curiosity. The members’ club is oversubscribed, exclusive and does not exist. Bold? Yes. Risky? Yes. Masterclass? Absolutely. 

  • Do naysayers say you’re in a tanking industry? Who cares. Certainly not IDEA, the London-based cult bookshop beloved by inspo-searching creative directors, fashion designers, the style set and beyond, with over half a million followers on Instagram. With plans to extend their small shop in Soho, they’re now focusing on accessing that brand love IRL, applying their TOV to merch, publishing and beyond. Not a bad IDEA at all… 
  • When your museum is at the ends of the earth, you better make it approachable. And right now there’s no museum I want to go to more than Tasmania’s stunning Museum of Old and New Art, whose founder “opened a small museum of antiquities to which no one came. He declared it a triumph and decided to expand. The result is Mona, a temple to secularism, rationalism, and talking crap about stuff you really don’t know very much about.” See you there. 

I could go on, but deadline calls. So to summarise… 

It’s about style and how you own yours. Creating a playbook for your brand to play from. If we’re talking verbal brand guidelines and you don’t know how, let’s talk. But here’s a spoiler of what you can expect – ‘human’ is not a tone of voice characteristic. And soz but ChatGPT cannot TOV. 

Really, I must go. But the last word goes to Ryanair who changed everything and not just in the field of how many coats you can wear instead of pack. In response to a traveller’s complaint that they had paid for the window seat but found themselves on the wing at an emergency exit:

‘We sell seats. Not windows.’

Real. Bold. Clever. On brand. 

Flawless, no notes.

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