[IMAGE VIA AD LETTERS FIRDGE GENERATOR]
You hardly need to be a discourse analyst to realise that the language (or tone of voice, if you insist) used in marketing comms has been changing rapidly across a variety of product categories; from food to finance.
To (over) simplify a complex evolution, in 1998 Innocent Drinks was born, and in the years that followed much of the marketing world (in the UK at least) started to grow increasingly self-conscious and feel somewhat awkwardly over-dressed.
Supplanting the usual dry, rational, consumer business speak (bound up in a discourse of formalism, fact and truth) came Innocent’s sweet little human-istic words and phrases like “tasty”, “stuff”, “honest”, “no funny business”, “popping in the fridge” et al.
And a stroke of genius it was. Innocent soon became the must-have drinking accessory for health-conscious mothers and general guilt-ridden fruit-skippers. In the brand personality sense, Innocent had pretty much inverted the category; making every other fruit juice look dry, stiff, and dull in comparison.
Interestingly enough, this development roughly parallels the shift from third person reporting to first person introspection; from formal letters to informal emails; from consumer magazines to consumer blogs; and from PC’s to Apple Macs.
Pushing this parallel a little further, it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that many a marketing blog uses language that wouldn’t look out of place alongside Innocent’s advertising, website and packaging. If I had a [insert a single unit of your local currency here] for every time that ‘stuff’ was used in a blog post (mea culpa), I’d be a rich man!
Indeed ‘stuff’ - a word that was once considered too vague, imprecise, and sloppy to be of any use to the marketing lexicon - is now somewhat of a fashion leader. In fact, shock horror, I even had an email from one of my management consultant friends the other day sporting the 'stuff' word (bearing in mind he's typically planned his whole life within the confines of an Excel spreadsheet according to the tenets of planning, implementation and control! Sorry Rish ... ;)
Also hot on its linguistic tail, ‘honesty’ is now being favoured over ‘trust’, whilst ‘unadulterated’ is also climbing rapidly up the copyrighter buzz chart.
But at the very point when this ‘kidult’-like marketing speak is fast-approaching the Gladwellian tipping point, I’m already starting to feel a little queasy. Is this semantic-symbolic shortcut for sweet, innocent and natural not already starting to create a sea-of-sameness I ask?
Let’s consider some extracts from Dorset Cereals website for example – a somewhat brave move considering its identity and packaging is one of the slickest around at the moment …
And there's more (this time from its packaging) ...
"We take delicious things and add some more delicious things, then we mix them up a bit"
"It's all about enjoying good things with other good things - like a doze and a deckchair, a flag and a sandcastle or rock pools and crabs"
Now don’t get my wrong, this is all admirably bang 'on trend' right now (for want of a better phrase). But I suspect “splashing in muddy puddles”, “wooden trucks full of chunky slices” and “lovely beach stuff” is only going to look endearing, cute and cuddly for so long.
Further, with so many brands now jumping on Farmer Giles' imperfectly hand-drawn tractor, it’s starting to feel somewhat mushy, contrived and predictable. As someone who deconstructs FMCG packaging at breakfast, literally, there are only so many stories about "little things" and "lovely stuff" I can read before the gorgonzola-stilton cocktail aroma starts making my eyes water (and quite frankly ruining my breakfast).
But where in future then? Back to the dry, stiff, man-in-a-white-coat copy of old? Well, I certainly hope not. I guess we’ll just have to remain patient and see – unless anyone else happens to have made an early sighting of the next ‘linguistic turn’ that is?