You might have seen this new ad from Virgin Trains in the last few weeks. The message is if you travel with Virgin you’ll arrive feeling awesome.

Now, I spend a fair bit of time whizzing up and down the West Coast Main Line, chuckling at the daft copy in the toilets. But in all those journeys I have never once got to Euston and thought ‘man I feel awesome’. I usually smell of trains, feel a bit crumpled and want to sit on a loo that doesn’t tip from side to side.

And my guess is if I did a quick straw poll of my fellow train travellers their immediate response wouldn’t be ‘yep, feeling awesome!’. So the message isn’t true. The advert is positively cheesy.

But I love it all the same. In fact, I think it’s the perfect ad for Virgin. Even though the ‘awesome’ thing is pushing it a bit, the ad does what a good ad should do: it uses a tone that’s right for its brand.

Unfortunately, not every campaign manages to match brand and tone quite as well. Last week Ocado sent me some free chocolate. It’s hard to be mad when someone sends you sweet stuff, but my teeth started to itch as soon as I spotted the wrapper.


Yep, that’s right. It’s a bar of chocolate from Lindt, saying hello. We spend a lot of time helping companies sounds more human, so why object to a nice, friendly bar of chocolate that wants to extend its hand of tasty goodness out to me? In the last few years there’s been a steady increase in the number of brands (especially food brands) creating ‘wackaging’. Innocent were the godfathers of it and did it brilliantly. But it seems like lots of brands, rather than coming up with their own unique way to speak to customers, have jumped on the bandwagon.

And that’s OK if you’re a brand like Innocent or BrewDog. But if you’re Lindt then you’re all about excellence, and history – after all, you’ve been making chocolate since 1845. You are most definitely not my mate. I want to hear about your heritage and your stories. I want you to stay unique and keep being the brand I know and trust. Your website reflects this, your adverts do the same – why go in an entirely different direction just for this product? It undermines (for me, at least) what’s at the heart of your brand.

So why can Virgin get away with tongue-in-cheek adverts that aren’t entirely true? Because they’ve spent 40-odd years building up a brand, one that has consistently broken with convention. They are cheeky and can say things that a lot of brands can’t get away with. And they also know their own products and customers really well – they might not be awesome but they’re pretty much the best train company around. So there’s a nugget of truth in what they’re saying, and they do a very good job of making the most of it.

When we’re talking to companies about tone of voice we don’t see it as a sticking plaster or a layer on top of a creative idea. An authentic tone of voice – whether it’s organisation-wide or used in just one piece of creative – should come from a place of truth. It should always be driven by what your brand is. And you have to understand that instinctively if you’re going to deliver ideas that really resonate with your customers.

There’s always got to be room for innovation and new product development, but make sure it stays true to who and what you are.

We’d love to know what you think of the Virgin ad…