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Talking brands

Jane Priest, Teaching Fellow

Faculty Blog

Is anyone else getting annoyed by the widespread use of ‘wackaging’? In the UK, countless brands are talking to us like we are toddlers. Marketers’ goal of making messages clearer and giving their brands personality has led to silly, twee language (also known as ‘wackaging’) becoming the norm: from patronising reassurances, ‘We believe in doing the right thing’, to childish demands, ‘Keep me in the fridge!’ Can’t we move on please?

Innocent smoothies may well have been the first to spark this craze back in the 1990s, and in my opinion it was brilliant then. New, different and a perfect personification of the quirky brand. But now wackaging has become so prevalent, it’s tiresome. Groceries are not the only culprits. For a test, I spent ten minutes searching online for brands which, admittedly I like and buy, and the examples in marketing copy were numerous.

If you’re shopping for yourself, why not buy some ‘Goodness Pouches’ or ‘Wholefood smooshed together’? You can rest assure it will be ‘gleefully made in Britain’ and if you’re really interested ‘Why not have a peek online to find out more’?

If you’re shopping for cat food, make sure you get ‘lovely healthy stuff’ that’s ‘lovingly made’. ‘Pets should eat proper food’ don’t you know. And if you want to wash your hair, don’t go without ‘extract of the yummy “Australian Wild Peach”’, especially if your hair’s ‘a bit unhappy’. Even banks are at it, ‘We’ll help you get the home you’re after’.

Some might argue this sort of chummy language is a way of making marketing messages simpler, clearer and more transparent, and that’s no bad thing (especially for my colleague who blogged about unclear signage the other day). But it’s often taken too far and grammar is unhelpfully pushed aside (‘Discover the power of soft’!)

In addition, wackaging seems to have become a default approach for all sorts of goods and services. If wackaging fits the brand personality, fine, but personalities are just that – personal – so wouldn’t it make more sense to give a brand an individual tone of voice?

I’d like to see a departure from this formulaic approach and hear some new voices. If a brand is about important, serious things like personal finance, why not stop trying to be my best friend forever and convey a more professional tone? And at the risk of sounding outdated, perhaps sales letters from mobile phone providers could revert to ‘Dear Jane’ instead of the manically cheery, ‘Hi there!’