It’s nearly Christmas and I have The Covids innit. So, just time for a festive TONE KNOB before we all power down for the holidays 🎄 🙌. In 2022, we’ll look at some big questions: what’s the difference between voice and tone, and does it matter? Is a voice better if it’s an emergent property rather than a deliberate choice? And are some brands better off not having a tone of voice at all? 🤔
But those questions are for later. Right now, it’s time for feeling-all-the-feelgood-feels. Cos we’re gonna look at Loved Before. Grab yourself a hankie. This could get 😭.
Loved Before are a small UK brand that sell second-hand soft toys. The idea came from their founder’s time volunteering in a charity shop. She noticed how the cuddly toys were so unpopular they were often sold as – dog toys!
Surprising, right? Kids are super attached to their own toys. But not, it seems, other people’s. What to do about that?
Long story short: Loved Before isn’t just a soft-toy shop.
It’s an adoption agency.
They’re not selling second-hand stuff.
They’re helping toys find new homes for the next chapter in their lives.
I know! Adorable. Clever. And so beautifully simple.
Because all that takes is telling a different story.
Obviously, the biggest re-framing is calling Loved Before an ‘adoption agency’.
That instantly opens up a whole storytelling world.
Here, for instance, is how they explain how all the second-hand toys are received, cleaned and re-sold:
(If you zoom in on that first pic, you’ll see that ‘Bear’ requires ‘17 x Weetabix’ and ‘6 litres Ribena’. Nice touch.)
And the best bit is that each toy has its own little life story. Which is, of course, the whole reason we’re here. They’re magical. They’re touching. They’re really funny. Let’s start with Clive. He’s a lion:
Clive has paid his dues. He’s earned a rest. You can give him that home.
Some of the creatures are feisty, confident, know their own worth. They’re exactly the kind of toy every kid needs by their side as they start their journey through life. What parent wouldn’t want Cherry hanging out with their kid? She sounds badass:
A number of the stories give you an insight into what toys are really thinking. Sometimes, like Milo on their Insta feed, it’s the intersection of frugality and nudity:
Often, the stories give the toys a naughty or mischievous spirit. Like Cob, who has a problematic relationship with chicken:
I particularly like it when the story is clearly planting the seed of an idea into a child’s mind. Like Worf:
Or this unassuming little mouse, Nug. Who is basically giving their new child a cast-iron excuse to demand to go to McDonald’s all. the. time. (‘Not for me, for Nug.’)
Some of the toys have big ambitions. I like how this sets up a whole world for kids to play with. Like wizard-in-training, Melody:
Though I have a particular soft spot for the toys with overly-grandiose sense of self. Hendrix is so gonna need a cuddle when he realises he was never a contender:
Honestly – I could do this all day. OK, two more then that’s it. My favourite sub-genre of all is the toys with weird or maddening habits. Lara’s story gives a strong vibe of Loved Before HQ being a place of warmth, chaos, and relatable levels of exasperation:
In the informal under-sixes focus group I ran, potential customers said things like ‘coolest teddies ever! I want one!’; ‘the ones in shops don’t come with stories they’re boring’; and ‘can we get some chicken nuggets now?’
Three things to love and learn from:
A bizness thing: it’s value out of thin air.
Worthless thing + two sentences of story = valuable item. Sometimes, fairly boring mass-produced toys become more valuable because they’re now unique. In part, you’re buying the story. (I wonder how many parents connect with a particular teddy because its story might help their child with a specific challenge like shyness or feeling different.)
Sure, adding ‘storied’ value is kinda the whole point of brands. And people have used this specific technique before: see Rob Walker’s Significant Objects project, where the NYT journalist bought 200 junk items for $1-ish each, and got writers to tell stories about them, to see how it would bump up the re-sale price on eBay. (Walker turned $197 into $8000, but he did get some pretty big-hitting writers like William Gibson and Jonathan Lethem involved, who then basically had to come up with a short story per object.)
A technical writerly thing: There are always two characters
Notice how the vast majority of the little biogs are written by the adoption agency about the toy. Just like a dog or cat home would do. Even though as we can see from Theo the Firefighter – the toys are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves. This is a) establishing the ‘voice’ of the adoption agency, b) Is funny! It’s the gap between how the toy sees themselves and how the agency sees them where all the comic potential lies. C) It’s much easier to write. you don’t need to create a new voice for each toy. Phew.
A brand-building thing: It’s a world of possibility
The brilliant thing about having a great story idea at the heart of your brand is they take on a life of their own. Loved Before also says that the World’s First Soft Toy Adoption Agency is just the start of a bigger approach to sustainable circular economy thinking about what it means to have ‘perfect’ things: 'imperfections' mean absolutely nothing in the context of love and acceptance and as we're learning more and more through the medium of bears, there really is no such thing as 'perfection'. That’s some Pooh bear-level wisdom right there.
🎁 You can still adopt (buy) toys for Xmas until 12pm on Weds 22nd! (They recommend going for ‘Special Delivery’.)
👍 Was it you who recommended Loved Before? Someone shared them on Twitter, and I now can’t find who. Thanks! Email me. 🙌
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