Brands getting it right with tone of voice

Written by Rachel McCallion

Words might not be as useful as PPE or hand sanitiser. But they can play their part...

There are a few brands that have struggled to apply their own tone of voice to this new challenge. There are, however, brands who have got the balance just right. We’ve picked a few.

Nike: right message, inconsistent tone

Sport brings us together – on the playing field, in the gym and on the terraces. Well, it did before COVID-19.

These days, Nike is encouraging everyone to ‘play indoors’ and ‘play for the world’. At a time when live sports are cancelled, we’re being asked to get invested in a race that everyone can get behind: the human race. Genius.



There’s a ‘but’. Having closed their stores around the world, Nike’s uplifting and aspirational tone of voice is missing from their website’s COVID-19 update. The message was informative, sure. But the language was relatively dry and it’s not really clear this is a message from Nike. 

Burger King: snarky but assured

Burger King is well known for its spats with McDonalds. Remember when the former offered a Whopper for one cent? Customers had to stand within 600ft of a McDonald's restaurant to unlock the deal on their phones. Next step: leave the golden arches behind to claim the deal at the home of the Whopper. Brutal.

But it’s not all about the snark. Burger King also has a soft side, as demonstrated in their ‘A Day Without Whopper’ campaign. For one day, they took their Whopper off the menu, encouraging those looking for a burger to head over to McDonalds to support their rival’s cancer awareness campaign.

During the pandemic, they’ve stayed consistently 'Burger King'. This is not a surprise. Burger King’s slogan, normally placed above the door of their restaurants, ‘Home of the Whopper’ was changed to  ‘Stay Home of the Whopper’. Messaging doesn’t get any simpler.

The company’s ‘Couch Po-tat-riot’ campaign on social media let every champion couch potato (and let’s face it, that’s all of us) know that by continuing to watch Netflix and eat crisps we’re helping to save the world. That’s right, Captain Underpants at your service. The activity also supports and gives thanks to frontline workers. Basically, Burger King wants people to keep on keeping on.

The King’s familiar voice is there: honest, approachable and straight to the point. “Sure”, it’s saying, “things are rubbish right now – but Burger King is still Burger King, and we’ll be here for you when this is all over”.

IKEA: please follow these step-by-step instructions

What we really need at the moment is simple, reassuring guidance. Enter IKEA, with their step-by-step instructions on how to stay home. No matter which country you’re from or which language you speak - the message is crystal clear.

Screenshot 2020-07-15 at 16.30.57

IKEA’s COVID-19 update took the opportunity to show customers the measures IKEA are taking, not only to keep business moving, but to keep their workers safe. A lesson in practicality, and definitely something the company is known for.

They’ve also adapted their catalogues into colouring books to keep little ones occupied while parents are working from home. Another deft move. IKEA continues to do what they do best: be practical, convenient and provide simple instructions. Go Swedes!

Next steps in tone of voice

Our One Voice™ process fixes what's wrong with tone of voice. Your brand will be speaking clearly, distinctively and powerfully in just four weeks.