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Baby talkers. We’ve all met them. People – actually, mostly women (sorry sisters!) – who think it’s cute to talk to other adults about biccy-wiccies and tummy pops (farts, for the non-native baby speaker) without even a whiff of irony. People whose bedrooms, you imagine, are lonely shrines to Hello Kitty, whose biros are trimmed with pink marabou and whose sole goal in life is to be a Disney princess.
Not people you really want to spend a lot of time with. And yet a growing number of brands seem to think we do. Why else do they indulge in baby talk?
I believe, it’s in an effort to be friends. But is that a friend or a fwend? During a few of this month’s branding workshops, the idea of being friendly has raised its cheerful head a few times. Friendliness has an obvious appeal. But defining exactly what ‘friendly’ means exposed a gulf between interpretations. Our clients meant being understanding. Or polite. Or just simply liked. Not one of them wanted to position themselves as cutesy or babyish.
Some say Innocent are guilty for this friendly, baby-talking boom. That their now ubiquitous tone of voice is to blame. But surely Innocent has more right to sound innocent than the rest? For me, it’s the pale imitators that should be in the dock. The boring brand-waggoners, whose brand strategy hasn’t been thought through, beyond ‘We want people to love us!’.
In an attempt to be friendly, brands often use sickeningly naïve language and grammatically suspect straplines that make them sound cretinous rather than creative. Sometimes, hunting for lunch on the high street can be like walking into a room full of salesmen, naked but for their nappies and cooing through their dummies. Just a teeny bit creepy, and certainly not going to get me salivating for a sandwich.
A few at least use imagery to create some sort of contrast or conflict. Because if childlike chumminess isn’t paired into an interesting conflict, you end up with Shirley Temple rather than Marilyn Monroe. See how long you can stand this click here for Shirley, compared to this click here for Marilyn. Both will appeal to connoisseurs of silliness, but one is definitely more entertaining. (How often do you get to see Marilyn pole dancing in a fisherman’s jumper for a load of boys in beige terry toweling?)
One guy who is getting his conflicts right is designer, writer and illustrator Jim Smith. Responsible for the chatty, chalk-dry wit on Puccino’s coffee cups, he’s also produced a collection of everyday things that talk to you in his definitely smiley but also slightly sarky TOV. Waldo Pancake stands out as proof that you can be friendly and have an authentic – and adult – attitude.
When I think in terms of brand personality, I’d much rather spend time with Waldo Pancake than many others who want to get matey. I’ve had friends who occasionally use baby voices when they want something, but it’s not a trait I have much time for. It’s their not-so-subtle way of manipulating, and I guess it must work for them to keep doing it. Which is why brands do it too. It gets dark when you consider who’s the baby in the relationship – perhaps instead they think it’s me? That I want to be taken back to my infancy in order to feel warm, good and special? I can’t decide. I’m happy to buy into friendliness, but that doesn’t mean I’m OK with infantile.
So that’s what I want. More friendly brands that don’t goo-goo and gurgle at me, but talk like a clever, characterful, mildly outrageous friend. A friend who makes me laugh and sounds like a real human being. Who speaks to me as a woman, if they must, but who speaks to me as a grown up first of all. Or it’s the naughty step for them, permanently.
In the last month, Asia has been a sea of red and gold as we celebrated Chinese New Year. As a newcomer to Singapore, learning about the significance of CNY has been a fascinating insight into Chinese culture, and as a designer, it’s been interesting to observe how modern brands have translated traditional stories and motifs into their products and communications.
As we enter the Year of the Snake, an animal signifying wisdom and business nouse, it’s no surprise that there have been plenty of reptiles slithering around. From the cute and cuddly to the sleek and sophisticated, brands seem to be putting their own spin on this year’s zodiac. Most popular sports retailers have released a snake inspired shoe for the season which reflects their own brand personality. Nike for example, released an ever-so-serious looking pair of black-adder pumps, while Stussy’s snake inspired collection is true to their streetwear style. In Chinese culture, colours are considered auspicious or inauspicious. Red and gold symbolize good fortune, joy, wealth and prosperity, so it’s little wonder that most limited edition packaging at CNY is a beauty parade in this colour combination. Calvin Klein, for example, produced a truly lucky pair of undies – a red and gold pair that featured a cheeky gold snake slithering up the side. While some brands sensitively integrate the colours into their palette without compromising their identity, others appear like a brand simply trying on new clothes for the sake of pleasing others.
Many brands are similarly guilty of caricaturing traditional motifs, like the beautiful Chinese paper cut illustration, with little consideration of how it relates to the brand itself. Coca-Cola on the other hand, have used this style as a reference, executing it in their own unique way to deliver their consistent story about happiness in the context of Chinese New Year. Interestingly, Rolls Royce, who last year produced the extravagant Year of the Dragon Phantom Car (which was valued at over $1.3 million and sold out within 8 weeks), decided not to produce a serpentine version this year. According to their press release, they’re very considerate of the choice of zodiac they integrate into their products and don’t see the snake as a particularly appealing animal for their market.
The most successful pieces therefore reveal a sensitivity to the underlying significance of traditional themes and interpret them according to the unique voice of the brand. Topshop for example, celebrated CNY for the first time this year by producing a fashion film called The Lanterns. Without featuring stereotypical symbols, the structure of the 58 second film communicates an honest respect for the traditions of its modern Chinese consumers. The brand currently has over 10 million followers on its Chinese Weibo site and is opening its first store in China in May. According to their Chief Marketing Officer, as a global brand, they recognise the importance of understanding what matters most to their consumers.
But perhaps the most considered campaign this year has come from Johnnie Walker. Whiskey is a popular gift for colleagues and clients at this time of year, and the brand has certainly made the most of the opportunity. Following the dragon-inspired box sets of 2012, this year, Johnnie Walker released a collection of 12 bottles, each etched with a different zodiac. In traditional Chinese culture, the number 8 is as lucky as they come, so the brand limited the edition to only 88 bottles – all of which sold out within two weeks of the launch. Going a step further, Johnnie Walker also collaborated with three bars in Singapore to design a series of bespoke cocktails that feature their Gold Label Reserve. Respecting the significance of the colour gold, the cocktails were aptly named ‘Good as Gold’ and ‘Liquid Luck’, and infused with flavours of special significance like mandarins and plums (which signify an abundance of wealth).
When approached in a thoughtful way, events like Chinese New Year offer great opportunities for brands to reflect their customs and traditions in a way that is meaningful, both to the consumer and to the brand. Strong brands don’t simply mimic traditional motifs and dress in the right colours; they use story to make a deeper connection.
Sankt Gallen, a brewery located in the Kanagawa region of Japan, has unveiled a unique way to enjoy their famous malt beverage: with an edible glass. The brewery has recently gained notoriety for their chocolate beers, notably their imperial Chocolate Stout: an ultra-dark beer that lists “chocolate malt’ amongst its ingredients. Indulgent, yes, but definitely delicious!
The clever people at Ojo have used an eye-chart-based design for their dietary supplement brand. The products were developed as an alternative to AREDS vitamin pills, which are large and can cause upset stomachs. Ojo means ‘eye’ in Spanish, and unsurprisingly this brand was developed by an opmathologist!
Packaging is a necessary part of food distribution – yet remains a problem when it ends up contributing to landfills and litter. Now, Bob’s fast food chain in Brazil has come up with another solution – creating edible packaging. (Cheers, Tim)
Instead of unwrapping the food, customers simply bite into the wrapped product. This might not be as hygienic as unwrapping the burger and throwing the paper away, but according to Bob’s there were no wrappers left in the restaurant following the campaign – suggesting the concept could provide an environmentally friendly (and tasty) solution to waste packaging.