How to manage tone of voice

Knowing how to manage tone of voice is one of the copywriter’s most powerful tools.

Choosing the appropriate words, varying the length of sentences, following or not following formal grammar rules… all these things can be used to tailor copy to specific circumstances.

To show how it works, we’ve taken an entry from Wikipedia for Heinz Baked Beans and – using the same basic information – rewritten it in four different styles. See what you think…

1. Encyclopedia style (taken from Wikipedia)

Heinz Baked Beans Heinz Baked Beans are a brand of baked beans produced by the H. J. Heinz Company, and sold in the United Kingdom and other countries. They are sold as Heinz Beanz since 2008.Heinz Beanz were launched in 1901 as “Heinz Baked Beans” and were produced in the United States until 1928. After opening its first overseas office in London in 1896, the company opened its first UK factory in Peckham, south London, in 1905 followed by a second factory at Harlesden, north-west London in 1919. A new factory opened in Kitt Green Wigan in 1958 and is now Europe’s largest food factory turning out more than 1 billion cans every year.

Presently, they are available at many US supermarkets and specialty stores. However, they are now imported with a label similar to the older British label but with US spelling and US Nutrition Facts.

Production method
Heinz Baked Beans are produced by sealing raw beans and sauce in the can, which are then placed in large pressure cookers. This gives the sauce its thick consistency and ensures a long shelf life for the product.

2. Press release style

Europe’s biggest factory opened by Heinz: London, October 2013. Global food and drinks brand Heinz today revealed that their new factory in Wigan, England, is officially the largest in Europe. It is capable of producing one billion cans of baked beans each year. A spokesman for the company said: “We are absolutely delighted by this achievement. It shows the continuing popularity of Heinz Beanz in virtually every country”.The factory is located in the Kitt Green district of the city and has been operational since 1958.

Global markets
In addition to serving Europe, the new factory also exports baked beans to the USA where they are mainly sold in supermarkets and specialty stores. The only difference between the European and USA product is in the labelling and the product name: “Heinz Baked Beans” rather than “Heinz Beanz”.

Special recipe
Heinz Baked Beans are produced by sealing raw beans and sauce in the can, which are then placed in large pressure cookers. This gives the sauce its thick consistency and ensures a long shelf life for the product.

The company has been producing them for over one hundred years. Although production was actually started in the USA it soon moved to the UK with factories in Peckham and Harlesden.

For more information please contact Sarah Crombie at the Heinz Press Office on XXXX XXX XXXX

3. Advertising style

THERE ARE BEANS. AND THERE ARE HEINZ BEANZ. Nobody makes beans like Heinz.Perhaps it’s our special way of sealing in the flavour. Or the secret way we cook them. Or the thick thick tomatoey sauce that makes them irresistible.

Whatever the trick it’s made us Europe’s Number One.

So don’t settle for any old beans. Insist on Heinz Beanz.

4. Radio style

Man: Oh, beans again, eh?Woman: Nope.Man: They sure look like beans.

Woman: Nope.

Man: Definitely smell like beans.

Woman: Nope.

Man: Come on, what are they?

Woman: These aren’t just beans. These are Heinz Beanz.

MVO: Perhaps it’s the special way of sealing in the flavour. Or the secret way they’re cooked. Or the thick thick tomatoey sauce they come in. One thing’s for sure: no other beans come close to Heinz Beanz.

Woman: Want some?

Man: Yup!

(Man and woman heard giggling)

5. Annual report style

2013: the year we broke the billion barrierIn another remarkable year of growth for the company we passed a major milestone in our history by producing over one billion cans of Heinz Beanz in our Kitt Green factory. We now officially have the largest factory in Europe which is testament to the continued appeal of our products to a wide customer base.Sales in the USA are also encouraging where the product is sold as Heinz Baked Beans which is felt to be more descriptive and easier for a relatively new demographic to understand.

The Kitt Green factory in Wigan, northern England, has actually been in operation since 1958, taking over from our original UK factories in Peckham and Harlesden. Through consistent investment in the latest equipment including a new generation of super efficient industrial scale pressure cookers and thanks to the efforts of our dedicated employees we have managed to not only meet but exceed our sales targets for the year.



8 replies
  1. Advertising Russia
    Advertising Russia says:

    Getting tone of voice right is one of the most essential points your brand can do. Having the exact same tone across all your customers’ touchpoints along with your brand makes them truly feel at ease, as that familiarity is comforting and so they know what to count on from you.

  2. Xerxes Aga
    Xerxes Aga says:

    Heinz is today synonymous with canned beans. Just as Fridgeair was with refrigerators some time ago. This can happen not only by ‘tone of voice’ in advertising them but also, perhaps, because they were the first kids on the block. This is not to detract from the astuteness of the advertising. Familiarity brings contentment.

  3. HH
    HH says:

    Agree, this is important for writers to know. You need to keep a consistent flavour across channels; that of the brand, not your own. Although I admit: I was secretly hoping you would write the Wiki copy from distinctly different tones of voice, just for fun. Eg.

    – Heinz as an 95 year old woman
    – Heinz as a Robot
    – Heinz as an Emo
    – Heinz as a chicken from Malaysia with Tourettes

  4. Emma Rundle
    Emma Rundle says:

    I think you can take a closer look at tone of voice. To me, you have mainly illustrated writing styles for different channels/mediums but, often, a brand dictates a certain tone of voice on top of this. Brands such as Innocent Smoothies or Google might be quite informal, fun, modern and use a relaxed style of writing. Other brands – perhaps large institutions like banks or solicitors – will use a much more professional/expert tone aimed at developing trust and showcasing credibility (not that the more informal styles don’t do this, but it will depend on the audience you are trying to reach and the product or services you are selling).
    Whenever I am asked to write something, I will spend as much time thinking about how to write it (tone-wise) as I do about what to write. In this day and age, there is so much more opportunity to vary our writing. Social media has made it acceptable to be friendly and informal but to do this you need a balance of credibility and expertise to come through. Very interesting topic, so many layers.

  5. Cindy Courtier
    Cindy Courtier says:

    Emma Rundle is spot on!
    Additionally, there is another “tone of voice” for those of us who are direct marketing writers — that is the style of the individual signing letters or sending emails. Part of my research involves reading blogs and any other materials I can find that tell me how the person I’m writing for “sounds” on paper.

  6. Suzie Harrison
    Suzie Harrison says:

    The annual report didn’t include enough anodyne blather or motherhood and apple pie mission statements, but otherwise I’m pretty impressed. Nice, I enjoyed that, thank you.

  7. Tom
    Tom says:

    Yeah, mon! Tone can also be created with word choice and grammar – as in sayin’ you’re instead of you are and using slang and shit to show the shizzle, not just the steak. Damn right!

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