More brand tone of voice examples

Nick Harland
April 2023

In this post, we’re going to examine how adidas, Starbucks and Coca-Cola use tone of voice to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

Not every company can offer a product or service that is totally unique. For this reason, a tone of voice is often a brand's only way of differentiating themselves from competitors.

But how do they do that? We've already looked at some brand tone of voice examples, but in this post, we’re going to take a look at three of the biggest companies in the world - adidas, Starbucks and Coca-Cola - to see how they use tone of voice to stand out from the competition.

Adidas tone of voice

Adidas tone of voice: everyday, inspirational, global

Before digging into the language that adidas use in their copy, it’s worth firstly looking at the type of content they choose to publish. And a company blog is always a good place to get a sense of that.

Here, you can see that adidas’ blog content is very accessible. It’s aimed at making your everyday life easier: What should I wear to yoga? How do I style white trainers? It’s interesting to compare this to Nike’s blog content, which is very different. Nike's content is much more inspirational and focused around bigger, more global, more ambitious topics.

So we can immediately see a difference between these two sportswear giants: adidas is the everyday streetwear brand, Nike is the aspirational sportswear brand.

And whaddya know, that difference immediately comes out in their copy. Observe:

Everyday culture
Wear them with your favourite sweats
Make an iconic look that’s all your own

We can see straight away that adidas are very direct with their language. They use the pronoun 'you' to connect with the reader and address the reader directly. It's very personal and down-to-earth. Words like 'everyday' only go to support that idea.

But curiously, when we look at adidas’ company profile, it is very similar to Nike’s.

Through sport, we have the power to change lives.
We will always strive to expand the limits of human possibilities.
Athletes do not settle for average. And neither do we. We have a clear mission: To be the best sports brand in the world.

Both companies’ mission statements are very aspirational. They’re very ambitious. And they’re very global.

Although adidas tries to present itself as more human, more down-to-earth and more everyday than Nike, the companies are ultimately very similar in what they do and their overall objectives. The only difference is how they get there.

Starbucks tone of voice

Starbucks tone of voice: aspirational, stripped back, aficionado

Starbucks is so ubiquitous now that if you don’t see one in a city centre, it’s almost a mark of failure for that city. And for the people who frequent it, it’s as much a status symbol as a place to get a coffee (or latte macchiato, or frappuccino, or whatever floats your boat).

But how did it reach that kind of cultural level? Well, we’ll let you in on a little secret folks. It ain’t through their coffee alone. They’ve partly managed it as a result of their brand identity and - wait for it - tone of voice.

Interestingly, Starbucks’ brand tone of voice differs from most brands. They’ve organised it into two elements: functional and expressive. The functional tone of voice is used in the signage you see in the actual coffee shop. It’s there to make things easier for you, help you get around and, y’know, actually order a coffee in between taking all those Instagram photos.

But their expressive tone of voice voice is what brings the Starbucks brand to life. Observe:

Here, they’re taking you to Hawaii. They’re affirming their status as coffee aficionados, but taking you on that journey with them. What’s clear is that Starbucks don’t just want to position themselves as coffee lovers - they want their customers to also be seen as coffee lovers by way of association.

Although they might refer to this tone of voice as ‘expressive’, the design is anything but. It’s simple, stripped back and removed of all obstacles - just like your experience of getting a coffee should be.

Through their expressive tone of voice, they take you away to Hawaiian islands and into the role of a coffee aficionado. Through their functional tone of voice, they make it as easy as possible for you to get the coffee you want. Starbucks is all about that counterbalance between simplicity and aspiration.

But ultimately, their tone of voice is designed to help the brand reach a level of cultural status that people want to be associated with.

Coca-Cola tone of voice

Coca-Cola tone of voice: togetherness, community, global

Nobody drinks Coca-Cola on their own.

At least that’s the message that Coca-Cola like to push out at every opportunity. They’re all about togetherness and community. A cold glass of Coca-Cola brings people together. Forget about the industrial levels of sugar and caffeine in their drinks; Coca-Cola is just an innocent soft drink loved by friends and family all over the world.

Let's take a look at some specific examples of the Coca-Cola tone of voice, with some keywords highlighted.

[Coke is] a tiny bit of commonality between all peoples, a universally liked formula that helps to keep them company for a few minutes.
The product that has given the world its best-known taste was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 8, 1886.
Coca-Cola is still more than a beverage. It is a common connection between the people of the world.

Coca-Cola reinforce two things at almost every opportunity: commonality and global appeal.

By regularly using the plural pronoun ‘we’, Coca-Cola promotes itself as more than a drink. It is something that brings friends, families and communities together. That ties in nicely with their commitment to sustainability and social justice, which they're also keen to promote at every opportunity.

This message is also linked to Coca-Cola’s global appeal. The drink pretty much sells itself at this point. So instead of selling the drink itself, they’re selling Coca-Cola’s appeal to people all over the world, no matter who they are or where they're from. It is Coca-Cola's global appeal that brings people together. Even if you meet somebody you have absolutely nothing in common with, a Coca-Cola is a cultural symbol that you both understand and can connect through.

Just like adidas, Coca-Cola have a close competitor offering very similar products (Pepsi). For this reason, their tone of voice is one of the best ways they have of differentiating themselves from the competition. Promoting itself as a global sign of communality and togetherness, rather than just a drink, is their way of doing that.

Nick Harland