BRAND LANGUAGE: Of Brands, Zombies, And Ventriloquists


Ventriloquists have a funny job. They give inanimate objects a voice like they were human beings. The art of the ventriloquist is to speak without letting it show, keeping their lips tight. As a consequence, hand puppets usually have these castrated voices.

There are some parallels between ventriloquism and copywriting for brands.

Does your annual report report numbers, or tell a story? Do your brand’s Facebook posts read like press releases, or like a human conversation? Is your catalog an annotated listing of SKU’s, or a book of dreams? Are your ads clever, or touching? All of these questions can be condensed in one: Does your brand have a voice or just words?

Brands usually have many who speak, write, design on their behalf. From ad agency creatives to technical editors, from PR managers to the CEO. They all produce expressions of the brand day in, day out. In this stream of messages, you don’t want your audiences – customers, investors, the public – to get confused. That’s why you have brand values, brand attributes and brand personality statements. Stick to these, the thinking goes, and you can keep a lot of different senders consistent along one core thread.

Problem is: these statements are usually word-smithed by committees. With executives representing different interest groups in a company, these committees are often like diplomatic summits during the cold war, with invisible iron curtains dividing the room. They are more likely to produce safe bets, than human language.

That’s why many brands speak like zombies. They’re organisms pretending to be alive while actually they are only inflated by expensive life support machinery.

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