For at least the last decade, Innocent Drinks’ cosy-chatty-witty tone has been the default voice for lazy brands to rip off. Never mind the deeper lessons to be learned from the chirpy smoothie-makers — like noticing how their tone reflects their whole outlook on life, or marvelling that they’ve managed to keep finding fresh gags and quality writers for nigh-on 20 years — No, mostly what copycat brands churned out was a tsunami of wackaging and inappropriately glib gibberish (glibberish?).
Well, finally, the Age of Innocent is over. No longer will brands fill the void in their own identity by stealing Innocent’s tone. There is a new go-to voice for the me-too brands.
We have officially entered the Artisan Era.
It’s been drawing closer for a few years, obviously: from micro-breweries to craft gins to small batch bakeries, we’ve wholeheartedly embraced a new generation of high-quality products and artisan entrepreneurs — and big brands haven’t been slow to jump on the bandwagon.
And now we’ve finally arrived. When the Big Book of Brand History gets written, scribes will be able to pinpoint exactly the date when the crossover happened, the very day when the collective voice of the nation’s quality, dedicated — and occasionally slightly overly-earnest — artisan brands became the new default corporate tone.
It was the day that Costa coffee put up this sign in their cafés:
Take a good long look at it. Print it out and stick it over your desk. Let it serve as a warning to us all. In the Age of Innocent, this might have said something breathlessly matey, like ‘it's your coffee! And our lovely baristas will make it just for you, exactly the way you love it!’.
No more. Because things have changed. Showing that you are a brand that really cares has shifted from showing you care so much about your customers you just can't help wanting to be their bestest friends, to showing you care so much about what you make or do that you just can’t help being obsessively thoughtful about the whole process of making or doing it.
The problem with this is, of course, entirely the same as with all the chumminess that went before.
It’s total bullshit.
Don’t get me wrong — the good baristas of Costa are unfailingly friendly and helpful. The coffee is consistently pretty good. And when I queue up on a busy lunchtime and watch them bang out twenty drinks a minute under the collective gaze of a long queue of impatient commuters, I’m impressed by their team-work, their efficiency, and how they use the steamer thing to crumple up the empty milk containers to almost nothing.
But are they hand-crafting my coffee? No they're not. Nor, crucially, do I want or expect them to. When I want that, I go to the independent place round the corner, where an young man with a beard like WG Grace and a tattoo sleeve poking out of his lumberjack shirt takes so long over the fancy squiggles he puts in the frothy milk that I’ve twice missed my train.
We should savour this moment. The Artisan Era will not be chatty. It tends to the earnest, often mixing a sort of po-faced mindfulness with an obsessive geekiness over details. With a bit of luck, crisp packets will stop wanting to be your best friend, and copywriting in general, should calm down a bit.
But mark my words, there are dark days ahead. It’s only a matter of time before some bank or other starts telling its customers they’ve ‘curated’ a 'small batch' of 'pop-up' current accounts.
And then, so help me, there will be blood.