Annnnd here we are, Tone Knob the second. The galaxy’s only newsletter devoted entirely to geeking about brands who have their tone of voice dialled in. Astoundingly, there’s already 800 of us. Can we make it to 1000? Forward to a friend or colleague and let’s see… 🙌
Who’s up this week?
Starface. 🚀 They’re a ‘pro-pimple’ skincare brand. Instead of hiding your zits with concealer or make-up (or by staying indoors and wailing with shame) you stick a brightly-coloured Hydro-Star on them. The stars treat your acne (they’re made from gunk-sucking hydrocolloid) and you get cool face stationery. Turns sadface spottiness into selfie-opportunity. Boom.
What’s the vibe?
Starface say their voice is positive, quirky and relevant. More specifically, I’d say it’s a mix of the fun, knowing daftness of TikTok text captions, against a general background of emoji-native casualness. Plus they have fun with the cartoony stars ‘n’ space ‘n’ galaxies thing.
Show me, show me
Not that you’d get any of the background info above from visiting their ‘about us’ page. There you get a brilliantly daft Star Wars riff on stars and pimples and whatnot. (Notice that Star Wars doesn’t turn up anywhere else, either. That easy eclectic mash-up is also very TikTok-y.)
Acne-positivity has become more of a thing over the last couple of years. For Starface, that positivity comes across tonally as a breezy sense that spots are just No Big Deal. This, below, is from their ‘BIG LIL QUIZ’. Notice ‘where do ur spots like to hang out’? Elsewhere they talk about leaving the stars to ‘chill and do their thing’. Much relax.
In fact, why not be friends with your spots. What kind of friendship, exactly? Like maybe one with your hamster?:
You’re probably picking up rn that Starface love a lil bit of txt speak. (Txt speak! lol Boomer! When I checked with my kids, they didn’t even have a word to describe writing that uses lots of abbreviations, numbers 4 letters and emojis. That’s just what informal writing is.) Starface turn this up even more in their emails. Here’s how they teased a recent collab:
And here’s how they announced that it was with Sesame Street a couple of days later:
Their kawaii-simplicity extends to how they talk about the products. Here’s numbers 4 and 5 of ‘what’s special about me’. Notice ‘never feel sad again’. Elsewhere, their Space Wash face wash is described as ‘making skin happy’. Sad. Happy. Even when they’re writing real words, they’re channeling an emoji-sensibility.
The instructions have the same voice, too. Here’s the 3 steps for using their Cloudface Cotton Puffs:
Three things to love and learn from:
There’s no judgement
The foundation of the whole voice is what they’re not saying. There’s no talk of ‘blemishes’ or ‘imperfections’ anywhere in the Starface universe – no unthinking judgement that’s hidden in the usual language of teen skincare. Sure, we’d like to not have spots, but they aren’t bad. They just are. (A subtle thing: they don’t even go for a ‘zapping your zits!’ energy, either. Starface are healing your pimples.)
They’re beyond ‘conversational’ writing
A decade ago, the idea of ‘writing more like you speak’ was still frightening for some of my more corporate clients. They’d often make a nervous joke like ‘I suppose we’ll all be writing in text-speak soon!’ I suspect this is the future they were fearing – where writing has gone beyond ‘speech-like’ and is now a conversational form in its own right. I think what’s most interesting actually is how rare it still is for brands to really embrace this – even though many people now write in this way in some form every day. Which is extra interesting when you consider that more and more brands are happily incorporating emojis into their writing. (Aside: is there a difference between those who use emojis as ‘fancy bullet points’, and those who make them fully part of their voice?)
And that vibe isn’t just fun. It works really hard for them.
I’m sure this isn’t calculated, but notice how that hyper-informal style sort of insulates their sales messaging from sounding salesy – ‘get urs now b4 it sells out 🚀’ is about as old skool call to action as you can get! But the style makes it sound much more like a friendly reminder from one of ur friends. Lots of brands say they’re all about ‘having a conversation’ with their customers ( 🤢 ). Starface’s voice gets that casual back-and-forth of messaging a friend or posting a comment really nicely.
What can we learn here? Certainly, it’s not just that u shd b doin this 🔥. More usefully, think about: are you clear on what you don’t say? What does a conversation with your customers really sound like? And perhaps most importantly: what’s your equivalent of a pimple? The thing others see as a blemish, but you can turn into a star. Boom.
Thanks to Katherine Wildman for the Starface heads up.
Blasting off until next time 👍 🚀 🙌
PS: Enjoyed this?
– Check out my other newsletter, The Notices.
– You might find my tone of voice method, Voicebox, a useful thing.
– My latest book is On Reading: Provocations, consolations & suggestions for reading more freely.