In conversation with

Nicola Matthews

UK Marketing Manager at Tony's Chocolonely

tonys chocolonely

Introduction

Introduction

Does a serious mission need a serious tone of voice? For challenger brand Tony’s Chocolonely, the answer is no, not necessarily.

The Dutch chocolate brand has been committed since 2005 to making chocolate that’s 100% slave free, focusing on illegal child labour and modern slavery in West Africa where 60% of the worlds cocoa comes from. Yet their brand personality and tone has always been tongue-in-cheek and conversational.

Marketing Manager, Nicola Matthews thinks “our tone of voice works because we write the way we speak – in a human, authentic way”. By drawing people in, Tony’s help “Choco Fans” feel that modern slavery is an issue they can play a part in solving.

We spoke to Nicola about Tony’s challenger status, why their company culture is all about noticing the small things, and how humour can make a great marketing campaign.

Question and Answer

Tony’s Chocolonely is often described as a ‘challenger’ brand – is that something that is embedded in your brand culture and if so, how do you make sure you’re following through with the sentiment? 

Being a challenger brand is embedded in what we do at Tony’s because it’s why we exist – we’re challenging the chocolate industry to become 100% slave free. We are an impact company that makes chocolate, not a chocolate company that makes impact.

‘Raise the bar’ is something you will often hear people who work at Tony’s say – we challenge ourselves daily to be bolder, to think bigger and to avoid doing things that risk us blending in. Our core values include ‘outspoken’ and ‘wilful’ and these aren’t just filed in a word document – everyone who works here lives and breathes them. If we want the industry to take us seriously we need to speak out more and be critical of ourselves and others. We are also critical of our visuals and copy – if you could swap in another chocolate brand it’s not Tony’s enough. We call it the ‘purple cow’ test, but that’s just a little inside joke.

tony's chocolonely

How did you arrive at your tone of voice (which is fun conversational) and still make sure it matched your mission?

I can’t take credit for developing our tone of voice, that is all down to the genuis Klink aka Mr T – the guy that designed our very first alarming red wrapper and is still our brand guardian 15 years later. We describe ourselves as ‘crazy about chocolate, serious about people’ – our flavours, the shape of our bars, our bright packaging and our communications are all a little ‘crazy’ (white chocolate with raspberry and popping candy anyone?); but we take everything to do with people, our partner cocoa farmers, retail buyers and Team Tony’s, very seriously. Our tone of voice works because we write the way we speak – in a human, authentic way, and above all we aim to surprise you and make you smile.

What is/has been your biggest ‘tone of voice’ challenge at Tony’s? 

Balancing a serious mission about ending modern slavery with a fun, tongue-in-cheek personality does have its challenges. Our language should never belittle the gravity of 2.1 million children working illegally and at least 30,000 instances of modern slavery on cocoa farms in West Africa. But we also want our Choco Fans to feel that it is an issue that they can play a part in solving. For those enjoying chocolate as a luxury treat in the UK, the people at the start of the supply chain in Ghana and Ivory Coast can feel far away and the problem can seem too big – our communications hopefully help to reduce that gap and make the problem more accessible.

“I think our directness and outspoken nature definitely comes from our Dutch heritage, but it’s always done with positivity and a smile. And let’s face it, the Dutch are streets ahead of the Brits in terms of progression towards a more social and sustainable society.”

How does your tone of voice translate into your team culture? Do you think it’s important that brand voice is as evident internally as it is externally? 

With a mission as huge as ending slavery in the chocolate industry, we need a passionate, motivated, and healthy team on board to make it happen. We work hard and we are rewarded with flexible working, unlimited holiday, a bonus to buy sports kit and a sizeable personal development budget amongst other things (unlimited chocolate is a given).

For a lot of companies ‘culture’ is something they brainstorm on a flipchart and then fold away never to be seen again, but for us it’s ingrained and visible all the time. When the lockdown happened we had a global call the next day where our Chief Chocolate Officer told us upfront that everyone’s jobs were safe – even contractors and the flex workers that work in our closed Dutch stores. That’s walking the talk and leading the way as a truly social business in my opinion. We could have furloughed those staff, but we have a healthy business and money in the bank so why would we take it from the government and ultimately tax payers?

A big part of Tony’s tone of voice and culture is about paying attention to the seemingly small things. We bake birthday cakes for each other, we eat lunch together and we leave lengthy poems and songs in our out of office messages. Why? Because it makes us smile and makes work more fun!

Tony’s is a Dutch brand – are there any personality points that feel particularly ‘Dutch’? 

I think our directness and outspoken nature definitely comes from our Dutch heritage, but it’s always done with positivity and a smile. And let’s face it, the Dutch are streets ahead of the Brits in terms of progression towards a more social and sustainable society. When I first joined Tony’s I couldn’t figure out whether the amazingly warm yet activist culture was a result of being an Impact brand, or a Dutch brand, but actually I think it’s a wonderful combination of the two.

Which other brands do you look to for tone of voice and who do you think is really nailing their marketing? 

It will come as no surprise that several Tony’s once worked at innocent. They have set the bar on tone of voice in my opinion so we have stolen with pride and put our own spin on things. The innocent founders are now Tony’s investors so I don’t think they mind.

Oatly is another brand we are inspired by. Their message is so simple and the way they talk to consumers is so unique. They are building a movement as we are and I think we can learn a lot from them about how to make the goal as accessible as possible for people.

I am a big fan of Bloom & Wild’s communications also, they pay attention to the smallest details and use their product as their most effective marketing tool. Even a total amateur like myself feels like a master florist with their easy to follow, amusing instructions.

Can you tell us about a favourite Tony’s brand initiative or campaign?

I was 3 weeks into the role when we started planning our big entrance to the UK. We wanted to educate people about slavery in the chocolate industry but also introduce them to our brand and chocolate. We don’t pay for traditional above the line media at Tony’s (and we’re the #1 chocolate brand in the Netherlands in spite of this), so we focus on generating word of mouth and creating impactful encounters that people will write and talk about, plus giving away lots of chocolate as it tends to sell itself! Through a combination of talking to design students at Utrecht University and a bit of behavioural change theory we came up with ‘The Free Chocolate Experience’.

We lured people in with the promise of free chocolate on unbranded invitations and social media posts and built a pop up in Soho. We had capacity over 5 days for 3,500 people, but over 7,000 signed up on Eventbrite (yes I panicked!) When people arrived they were led up to a dark room with a giant chocolate bar-shaped projector screen. When the door shut a booming voice started, accompanied by animations around the room to illustrate the issue – there is no such thing as free chocolate, somebody is always paying the price. It’s safe to say that this isn’t what most people were expecting to see and hear so they left the ‘Bitter Truth’ room a bit shell-shocked. But then we led them to the ‘Sweet solution’ room which was filled with colourful chocolate installations, plenty of samples and cheerful Tony’s ready to explain how we are tackling the problem.

Shocking people with the problem, and then introducing them to the solution made the experience memorable for people which in turn made it shareable and something to talk about. We met so many people during the week whose friends had told them about it or posted about it on social media a few days before. It was an exhausting week (I won’t hold a pop up in a 4 story town house again!) but it was so worthwhile to have genuine conversations and build direct relationships with 3,500 people who are now our biggest brand advocates.

"Shocking people with the problem, and then introducing them to the solution made the experience memorable for people which in turn made it shareable and something to talk about."

What do you think makes a great (and successful) marketing campaign? 

The communications and campaigns that cut through for me at the moment are those that keep it simple and are based on a true consumer insight. Or the ones that make me laugh – I’m most likely to share those with others. Staying authentic to your brand is also crucial, otherwise you blend in, consumers get confused and they don’t remember it. I was disappointed but not surprised to see the reems of corona virus adverts that emerged in recent weeks as carbon copies of each other. I think marketing teams panicked and wanted to say ‘something’, so their brand codes and values went out the window and so many ended up saying the same thing. I loved how Emily Crisps pivoted their out of home creative recently to recognise the fact that they’re first ever outdoor campaign was going live during lockdown. Their self-depreciating humour meant it got shared widely on social media even if it wasn’t seen by many passers by.

Nicola's Storylist

Books

  1. Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez
  2. The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
  3. Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

Magazines

  1. The Sunday Times Magazine
  2. Stylist

Newsletters

  1. Marketing Week
  2. The Huffington Post

Podcasts

  1. The High Low
  2. Table Manners
  3. How To Fail by Elizabeth Day

Digital Platforms

  1. Blinkist
  2. The Guardian
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