Mythical manliness and big bricks of soap.
Hello hello 👋,
Hey, new readers! So, Tone Knob was Substack’s ‘What to Read’ newsletter last week. Nice! Thanks, Substack. 🙌 They gave me a badge and everything. (I put it at the end. I polish it daily).
Here’s funny: because of being featured, I know many new readers are American. And this week, I’d planned to look at a very American brand. A very manly American brand.
Now, I am neither American, nor manly. And for extra fun, I’ve held off from talking to American friends and colleagues about these guys in the (possibly misguided) belief that my non-American, non-manly perspective might be useful.
So, this could be a car crash, but hey. This week, the terrific Duke Cannon Supply Co.
A bit about the brand
Duke Cannon make soaps, shaving foams and other bathroom stuff for men. They started out with a signature product, the ‘Big Ass Brick of Soap’ – a massive, rough-cut 10 oz bar of soap modelled on the bars that American GI’s were issued during the Korean war. Duke Cannon make their soaps in the same factory that supplied the US military in the 1950s. Their military connections are deep and sincere: they give a portion of their profits to veteran causes, and all their products are ‘tested by soldiers, not boy bands.’
What’s the voice like?
On the face of it, Duke Cannon is a classic ‘straight-talker’ voice. The products, the names, the descriptions, the whole vibe is blue-collar no-nonsense: Big Ass Brick of soap. Thick body wash. Solid Cologne. Pucks of shampoo. There’s a pleasingly lumpen thunk to the language.
There’s a vintage military vibe to some of it. (‘Naval Diplomacy’!).
As well as a hefty dose of generalized check-shirted, callused handed, log cabin-dwelling outdoorsman. Hell, what Real Man doesn’t want cologne to come in a tin:
Trucks, machines, and engines turn up a lot. Here’s the intro to Dry Ice shower goods:
And that thick shower gel? That’s man-thick. Pretty sure the box has ‘in a box’ on because it’s the sort of stating the obvious thing a Man Faintly Baffled By All This Brand Nonsense might say about packaging. (Also, ‘box’: another thunk word.)
Love this little touch here. Digitally savvy social-proof behavioural nudge made to feel like a manly arm around your manly shoulder. (And is that hand cream called ‘Bloody Knuckles’?)
Duke Cannon really opens up the throttle in the FAQs. Once you get past the nuts and bolts of returns and postage, you’re getting some real last orders at the whiskey joint wisdom:
It’s the voice of experience. Father to son, maybe. Or master craftsman to apprentice. Or Morgan Freeman’s ‘Red’ to Andy in Shawshank Redemption. Or maybe I’ve just got some Big Ass Soap in my eye. More:
And here’s a perfect dose of quit-your-whining advice. Build yourself a new soap holder:
But the real reason I’ve asked you to follow me down the Duke Cannon rabbit hole is so we can arrive at their ‘about us’.
Because all of this straight-talking-with-a-dash-of-knowingness is built on the elusive character of Duke Cannon himself, and the mythical place which is Duke Cannon Country, and one of the best ‘about us’ stories I’ve seen in a long time.
Sorry, but I’m gonna have to quote the whole thing. ‘In a world of weak handshakes’ they say, ‘here’s a finger-crushing introduction’:
‘Put down their lug wrenches and pick up their phones’ is poetry. And ‘pretend bicycles’ might just be one of my favourite descriptions of anything ever.
The whole thing also serves as a voiceover for their video ‘This is Duke Cannon Country’. (Don’t you dare call it a brand film). Which gives it strong vibes of Ram Trucks ‘So God Made a Farmer’. (Watch it. It’s terrific.)
This, for me, is what makes Duke Cannon’s voice interesting. That yes, it’s a brand built out of obvious bits of manliness: lug wrenches, bacon, soap that comes in bricks, and calling a box a box. And it’s also a brand that knows very clearly who it’s not for: hashtagging selfie-takers. Your teenage neighbour. Peleton cycling boy-band members. And quite rightly some people will find that off-putting.
But it’s done with warmth. It’s head-shaking bemusement, not toxic masculinity disdain. It manages to be both sincere, and in on its own joke. Duke Cannon Country is a mythic place, an ideal of humility and service and the confidence that comes from knowing you’ve done a hard day’s work with your hands and been useful to your community. While smelling nice.
Cos let’s not forget, it is still goddam skincare. Duke Cannon may be a manly man’s man, but he still exfoliates. Real men would just rub themselves down with gasoline and gravel.
Three things to love and learn from
💪 Who’s your Duke Cannon?
The entire Duke Cannon brand is infused with the spirit of the mythical character of Duke. We know we’re in his presence, but also that it’s not actually him speaking directly. Everything’s sort of written from the perspective of ‘warm friends of Duke Cannon’. I really like that ambiguity and nuance: a strong voice, but indirectly.
✊ Who are you against?
Duke Cannon’s voice will put off the people they’re not for. They’re not rude or aggressive about this, but they’re also totally cool with it, too. They’re very definitely not trying to appeal to everyone. Who’s not your target audience? How can your voice help signal that?
🙋♀️ Let rip in your FAQs
There’s some po-faced content design advice that says ‘if your website needs an FAQ, then you haven’t designed your website properly’. Well, perhaps. But FAQs give you the perfect opportunity to stretch your voice out. Especially if you dispense with the frequently asked questions, and start answering the questions we’d love to be asked cos we have interesting things to say. The entire reason you’re reading this Tone Knob is because about five years ago I read the FAQ about how ‘a dog is better than a best friend because it won’t call you at 2 am to get you to bail him out of jail’, and it stuck with me.
🙌 Thanks for reading! 📚
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