In conversation with

Jacob Denno

Senior Copywriter for innocent

Jacob Denno Innocent

Introduction

Introduction

A common request when writing (or re-writing) tone of voice guidelines is: “make us sound like innocent.” Pioneering a tone that is warm, chatty and fun, innocent helped pave the way for brands to write more like they speak.

Not everyone can or should sound like innocent (though it hasn’t stopped a tonne of brands from trying). Their cosy and witty voice – to be found on the bottom of their smoothies in quips like “stop looking at my bottom” – is something of an industry icon. But what we love more than the tone itself is that they do it everywhere. Much like Monzo, it’s their consistency – from packaging to social media, advertising campaigns to newsletter copy – that’s really impressive.

If anyone knows the ins and out of innocent’s tone, it’s senior copywriter Jacob Denno. We first spotted Jacob on Zoom (where else?) when we gave a talk for YCN in March. We reached out and asked him a few questions on fruit puns, team culture and why all good copywriting starts with making people care.

Question and Answer

innocent’s tone of voice is iconic. How do you make sure everyone at the company gets it when they start? Is there an onboarding process?

I wish I had a more interesting answer for this. It all comes down to a little booklet we have called ‘How To Write For Innocent’. It’s about twenty years of wisdom squashed into just a few pages and is the best set of tone of voice guidelines I’ve come across. Anyone who joins our creative team (or any agency we work with) gets an induction to it, which usually involves me rambling on for about 45 minutes and telling people to never use exclamation marks or spell innocent with a capital I.

Innocent Drinks
"It's about twenty years of wisdom squashed into just a few pages and is the best set of tone of voice guidelines I've come across."

How do you keep that tone of voice consistent but also fresh?

The consistent bit comes from that booklet and loads of feedback. When people first write for innocent, they tend to accidentally parody our tone of voice. They’ll try too hard to be funny or conversational or stuff as many fruit puns as they can into one sentence. But innocent’s voice is much more nuanced and subtle than people think it is. While the booklet lays out a lot of the golden rules, it can take months of feedback to get someone writing in our true voice. So I take that really seriously and spend hours commenting on work to make sure we’re all writing in a way that feels truly ‘innocent’. As for the fresh bit, that comes from saying stuff that’s actually relevant. If you’re doing that, writing will always sound fresh.

What are the challenges in writing in such a well-known (and often studied) tone?

For me, the biggest challenge was not being too intimidated by it. I’d loved innocent for years and always wanted to write for them. So when you get in the door and you’re the person who’s now looking after this famous tone of voice, it can be quite intimidating. There’s also such a huge respect for copy round here, so the expectations are quite high. If you write something and it’s not clever, funny or unexpected enough, you’ll get called out on it. It’s a great thing and part of the reason why innocent’s voice has stayed so strong for such a long time – but it’s also quite tricky if you’re not feeling particularly clever, funny or unexpected that day.

If you had to sum up innocent’s tone of voice in a sentence what would it be?

Writing like you’d talk to your mum or the man in the local shop.

Right now we’re seeing a lot of brands erring from their usual tone to tackle the subject of COVID-19. What would be three pieces of advice on how to avoid slipping from your brand’s tone of voice yet still addressing the issue?

I’d only give one piece of advice. Just carry on as normal. There’s no reason why a brand’s voice should change when talking about COVID-19. Even the most irreverent tone of voice should be able to handle it. If you’re able to stay true to your voice when confronted with an irate customer, COVID-19 shouldn’t be treated any differently. And if you’re working with a tone of voice that can’t handle it, it might be time to sort that out.

What is the first thing you do when approaching a new piece of copy or campaign?

Work out why anyone will care. If you start writing something and haven’t thought about why it matters to the person who’s going to read it, you’re about to give the world something pretty vanilla. At innocent, ‘relevant’ is one of the pillars of our tone of voice but it applies to all good copywriting. So I always try to get that bit straight in my head before I write a single word.

How much does innocent’s tone of voice reflect (or affect) the brand’s own culture? Or is it the other way around?

I think it works both ways. Our personality is a reflection of the founders and people like Dan Germain who turned the tone of voice into what it is. But it also affects how everyone at Fruit Towers talks about the stuff they’re doing or puts together a Powerpoint presentation for the Monday morning meeting. We like it if someone explains how they’re sorting out our huge range of tamper artworks (the seal that goes from the lid to the bottle) by likening it to their sock draw. Stuff like that is actively encouraged. And if that’s the culture you spend a lot of your time in, it’s bound to have an impact when you sit down to write something.

The Economist's famous 1984 ad campaign by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

Any brands you particularly admire when it comes to tone of voice? Any copywriters whose copy you enjoy?

I’ve always thought Pret do it really well. The best example I can think of is the copy they wrote on a napkin about giving their staff the evil eye if they hand you too many serviettes. Puccino’s is another one. Waldo Pancake writes (and designs) some brilliant stuff for them. As for brands that don’t sell coffee, I know it’s not an original answer but The Economist is a masterclass in intelligent writing for advertising. And no one hits that passionate, powerful and emphatic tone quite like Nike does.

The Storylist

Jacob's Storylist

Books

  1. The Future We Choose: Surviving The Climate Crisis by Christiana Figueres & Tom Rivett-Carnac
  2. Talking To Strangers by Malcom Gladwell

Magazine

  1. The Sunday Times Magazine
  2. New Scientist

Newsletters

  1. It's Nice That
  2. Campaign

Podcasts

  1. Desert Island Discs

Digital Platforms/Websites

  1. Positive News
  2. HUH
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