In conversation with

James North

Creative Director at MOO

Introduction

Introduction

For James North, life as a creative is about more than a job title. From copywriter, to Head of Copy to Creative Director, his aim has always been ‘to create culturally relevant work that raises brand awareness, sales and hopefully a smile or two’.

James certainly left the S&T team smiling, after leaving a note in our inbox about a copy mistake that had gone public whilst he was heading up the copy team at Moo. He wrote to us: “Somewhere between a word doc being written and packaging being produced, tweaks had been made and proofing had been missed. Leaving us with 18,000 embarrassing bottles. But instead of hiding our mistake in landfill, we sacked the copywriter used them all instead.”

10 out of 10 for honesty. And for humour and humility too. After receiving that note, we knew we had to interview James. We spoke to him about what it means to own your brand’s tone of voice in the face of a mistake. Reflecting on the Moo mishap, he told us: “We couldn’t be flippant with our response. It’s easy to see mistakes on a website, email or packaging and feel a little more unsure of the brand. If they don’t sweat the small stuff, what else have they missed? But for us it was about showing our priorities – yes, we care and think about everything we put out into the world, but not if it’s going to lead to unnecessary waste.”

 

Question and Answer

How would you describe MOO’s tone of voice?

Open, conversational, playful. Whether you’re a side hustling ice cream maker or a huge tech giant, business can be tough. So when anyone receives something from MOO, the aim is to put a smile on their face. It should be a highlight in their day. That same feeling should come through whether you’re opening that very first ‘oh my, this idea now feels real’ pack of business cards, or an email.

 

 

Where do you go for inspiration when writing for MOO?

Cliché alert, but it’s true: our inspiring customers are always the inspiration. Instead of a vague ‘18–80 year old’ target audience, we’re able to put real faces to who we’re talking to – they’re right there on the high street, opening up that fancy new coffee shop, making moves in that WeWork over there, or in the fancy office next door. It’s the thing I enjoy most: so many people tell you their MOO experience or want to show you the fancy cards they ordered.

How do you get the whole team onboard with MOO’s tone of voice?

You don’t really have to get people on board with how MOO should sound. At its best it’s how we all want to sound – it’s your positive, helpful workmate. Whether it’s customer support, an email or even an internal newsletter, that tone should come through, no matter if they’re a writer by job title or not. There’s an encouraging, supportive and playful attitude to the company, that’s been here since the start. I guess it’s what attracts many people in the first place, so thankfully it continues even as we develop and progress.

 

 

book stack

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

Stutterheim for their (very on brand) dryness. They’re a good reminder that you don’t have to shout – just doing the opposite of everyone else will make you stand out.

I’m also a sucker for anything that David Hieatt has been involved with. He did some great Nike work when he was starting out in ad agencies. But mostly for the brands he’s founded and put his intelligent, thought provoking stamp on – from Howies and Hiut to the Do books and lectures. It’s never just looking for a funny line or alliteration. He and his team always find a truth that people want to grab on to and be a part of. The Howies catalogues are still on my shelf, more than 10 years after they turned up in the post.

 

 

“You don’t really have to get people on board with how MOO should sound. At its best it’s how we all want to sound – it’s your positive, helpful workmate. Whether it’s customer support, an email or even an internal newsletter, that tone should come through, no matter if they’re a writer by job title or not.”

What is your favourite punctuation or grammar rule ever?

Understand the rules, follow the basics (yes, that includes apostrophes), but ignore the pedants. It’s much better to be read, understood and appreciated than to be utterly forgettable but 100% grammatically correct. No-one ever shared something because it was brilliantly error free.

And your favourite word?

I was tempted to search for one that made me look more intellectual, but the truth is I don’t really have one. I just love how some writers can flip a simple word and use it in such a surprising way that makes it fresh all over again – I was just listening to a Scroobius Pip podcast with Sleaford Mods. They’re masters at taking familiar language and enunciating it in elongated or unusual ways that you can’t ignore.

 

 

For your water bottle, when did you realise that you’d made a mistake in the copy? Why did you decide to turn that mistake into a campaign?

We were deep in remote working, lock-down mode. Rob Wilson (our brilliant in-house photographer) sent through some shots he’d been working on, including one which featured the packaging – the packaging that hadn’t yet come round for a final proof. A quick zoom in and there it was, a misused apostrophe that would make a greengrocer blush. It’s still not clear exactly how it happened, but people leaving, people starting, processes changing; it all played its part.

There were three things we could have done once we were all aware: pretend it never happened and quietly send them to landfill, ignore it and hope no-one noticed (no one reads copy, right?), or own it and use it to make a point. But really, there was only one option. We’re currently making huge efforts to reduce unnecessary waste and act responsibly, and we always like to be open when things go wrong – it’s all part of being trusted and relied upon. So we got to the right decision pretty quickly.

 

 

As the Head of Copy, what were the challenges of reframing a mistake?

Once we made the decision to use them, we needed to make sure it didn’t reflect badly on the quality of the product itself. We couldn’t be flippant with our response. It’s easy to see mistakes on a website, email or packaging and feel a little more unsure of the brand. If they don’t sweat the small stuff, what else have they missed? But for us it was about showing our priorities – yes, we care and think about everything we put out into the world, but not if it’s going to lead to unnecessary waste.

 

 

What is your favourite advertising comeback campaign of all time? And why?

A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail quicker (thanks Mr Bernbach for that one). But that’s nothing compared to what a disgruntled social media warrier can do to it now. Just ask KFC or Carlsberg. Twitter hated their “soggy, cold” fries and “stale bread stick” beer. But instead of trying to ignore or hide the negativity, they both showed they were listening. They used the hate constructively by reclaiming those bad reviews, changing their recipes and shouting about their improvements. Both grabbed attention and created a bit of fresh interest in underperforming areas of their businesses. Admittedly, they’re still not the best though are they?

James' Storylist

Books

  1. The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Byers
  2. Anthropology by Dan Rhodes
  3. 99 Ways to Tell a Story by Matt Madden
  4. Philosophy for Polar Explorers by Erling Kagge

Magazines

  1. Courier
  2. Like the Wind
  3. Guardian Weekly

Newsletters

  1. Hiut Denim - Scrapbook Chronicles
  2. Thingtesting
  3. We Present

Podcasts

  1. To the Best of our Knowledge
  2. Broken Record
  3. Blue Mind Podcast
  4. Stuff the British Stole

Digital platforms

  1. Dice
  2. Bandcamp
  3. Headspace
  4. Strava

Websites

  1. The Quietus
  2. The Guardian
  3. CPGD
Previous Story
lucinda_toole
Lucinda Toole

Strategist at Sonder & Tell

Articles

Featured storytellers

View all

Sign up to our newsletter