Former copywriter and creativity pundit Dave Trott tells a story about George Patton to make a point about advertising language. The US general once told a journalist, ‘When I want my men to remember something important, to really make it stick, I give it to them double dirty [...] You can't run an army without profanity.’
The point here is not that swearing is innately useful, it’s that you need to speak the language of your audience and if that means getting a bit savage, do it.
The brands that we spoke to with the strongest voice on Twitter agreed that letting corporate tones or jargon leak into the messaging is the fastest way to ruin a conversation.
When Crock-Pot was blamed for the death of the beloved patriarch Jack Pearson on the TV show This is Us, the brand took to Twitter to conduct damage control. Social media director Ashley Mowrey had to convince her leadership team to abandon the brand's regular tone of voice.
‘We used a lot of emojis', explains Mowrey. 'We also used a lot of the same vernacular that they were using [...] One that sticks out in my mind said, ‘Our hearts are broken,’ and we used the broken heart emoji and said, ‘Jack was our BFF too.’ I think that was one of the Tweets that was most reposted.’
Professor Karen Nelson-Field, executive director at The Centre for Amplified Intelligence, who has written extensively on the science of sharing, told Contagious, ‘Anything that's highly emotional [...] will get shared more.’ That rule is true for content in any medium but Nelson-Field has found that, ‘Not only do high arousal videos share more, but they cut through. They help you be remembered.’
The Crock-Pot campaign, created with agency Edelman, generated 3.7 billion impressions and won a Silver Lion in the PR category at Cannes, and Crock-Pot enjoyed a $300,000 bump in its February sales. Looking back, Mowrey says the brand's only misstep at the time was to issue a media statement in its usual corporate tone of voice: ‘That would probably be my only regret.’
The most reliable way to avoid sounding like a corporation desperate to infiltrate the Twitter ranks is to demonstrate the two qualities that companies almost never display: self-awareness and self-deprecation.
VMLY&R’s Jen McDonald believes one other quality is a prerequisite. She says fearlessness is necessary to get the Twitter tone right, ‘because I think everything that we’ve done that’s exploded has made some people a little uncomfortable at first, before it gets out into the world’.
If that wasn’t anxiety-inducing enough for a brand, speed is a necessity, too. Take too long to diligently weigh the pros and cons of a message and you will have missed the moment of impact. As a result, we found that many agencies and brands like to set out clear and definitive guardrails for what cannot be said but allow anything in between those extremes.