Why it works series - An analysis of Oatly’s tone of voice

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Why it works – Oatly’s Tone of Voice

Welcome to the first in our Why it Works mini-series. Everyone in our team has chosen a brand they love and is peeling back the shiny cover to see what’s making it tick. Then we’re going to share what businesses like yours can learn from it. First up, it’s the irreverent Oatly.

Oatly, the self-aware drink

I’ve chosen Oatly for a few reasons. One, I was sick of using Innocent Smoothies as the only example of ‘brave’ brand tone of voice. Two, the drink is great and makes me feel all smug when I drink it. And three, they’re the perfect example of a challenger brand. I like a brand doing something brave and Oatly is certainly that. So, why are those beautiful Swedish people getting it right yet again?

Let me share my thoughts with you.

I’d like to point out this is based entirely on my opinion and no scientific research was carried out whatsoever. I’d even go so far as to say a cursory Google search and my obsession with reading copy wherever I come across it is the entire basis of this article. Let’s begin. 

What is tone of voice and why is it important?

I’m a tone of voice fanatic. I know the difference a bit of wit, consideration and attitude can make to copy so I’m a huge advocate for analysing a good tone of voice to death. Heck, I started my own company so I could play with tone of voice all day long. To me, it’s kind of a big deal. But what is tone of voice? 

Tone of voice is not what you say, but how you say it. It’s not just your language choices either – it’s the rhythm of your words, their order and pace. Tone of voice is evident in your organisation’s written communications, design and even how you connect with people. It can be seen in your logo, brand colours and typography. A correctly used tone of voice keeps your brand consistent and, ultimately, makes you a brand people can trust. Tone of voice is an attitude. A state of freaking mind man. Ok enough – but it is important and Oatly execute theirs brilliantly. 

What is Oatly’s tone of voice?

First of all, let’s look where Oatly started.

Image via The Challenger Project, with thanks. 

I know, ew right? It’s vague, Swedish in the wrong way (is that even possible? Apparently so) and completely lacking attitude. My fellow millennials would not pick up this carton, we would walk right by. 

So, what did Oatly turn into?

Ta-da, this vision. It’s friendly, handmade aesthetic is the first thing that grabs you. Already, I feel the carton is giving me a hug. Then, mid Friday Big Shop, I pick up the carton and start to read. ‘No milk, no soy, so…eh…whatever’. You’ve got me and I am going to read the now famous ‘boring bit’ on the back of your carton. 

It’s irreverent, self-aware and directly speaking to its audience. Cast your mind back a few moments, how many Vegans do you know that have complained about the harmful dairy industry? Have you ever had one of them say “You drink milk? Are you a baby cow?” The answer is all of them and this is the copy they would write if they weren’t arguing with some fusty meat eater on Twitter. 

As I tell our clients multiple times a week, your tone of voice is everywhere. And one of my favourite executions of Oatly’s tone of voice is their Instagram feed – let’s take a look. 

So much good stuff. In that final post, you can see the tone of voice in the caption copy as well as on the van. Tone of voice is everywhere. 

So, why does it work so well?

If I had to boil down why Oatly’s tone of voice is so well executed, I think it’s:

  • Its self-awareness – it knows it’s a vegan drink and it’s not afraid of it. If it could wear a protest pin it would. This is evident in lines like “Yes, the Oatly ice cream truck currently driving around London and Brighton handing out free vegan ice cream is so ridiculously adorable, you might never suspect it is an agent of change sent by the post milk generation movement to convert as many new members as possible with its salted caramel chocolate fudge hazelnut swirl propaganda.” See what I mean?
  • Its attention to detail – Oatly’s execution of their tone of voice is so on point I just wanted to share a few environments it pops up in. Their cartons, their social channels, experiential (ice cream van), their office walls (their walls speak their brand!), their website (I fangirl about this later on), even their terms and conditions. They breathe their brand voice (pun intended).
  • Its humour – us millennials love a laugh, which is part of the reason why we do mad shit like make a video where we’re dressed up in Oatly cartons as if we’re robots from outer space. That’s a real thing that happened by the way. Oatly is the master of the surprise take. I love that something unexpected happens at almost every touchpoint with their brand.

In fact, one of the best ways to sum up Oatly’s approach to brand tone of voice is to see what its Creative Director, John Schoolcraft, thinks about the brand tone of voice he developed- 

“People are easily bored, so if someone writes something unexpected it tends to make people feel good. I’ve been a copywriter in my past and enjoy writing. At Oatly I write what I want at the time to make it interesting if I read it. There’s a lot of freedom here.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself. 

Now, before I reveal how you can emulate some of their success, let’s fangirl a bit more on some of their other executions. 

This copy from their website –

This entire wooden book they made for an internal comms piece to get their team onside with the brave new vision they were going with. I mean, it’s carved out of wood. 

Image via The Challenger Project, with thanks. 

The fact they executed their brand tone of voice so well, someone got their product inked to their skin. 

View this post on Instagram

Sometimes, you see a person who is so obviously amazing and forward-thinking that you want to send them a gift to show your appreciation, but then you realize you don’t actually know who they are so of course, you ask the internet for help figuring out who the person is because everyone knows the internet knows who everyone is, and sure, the post about asking the internet about the person will not seem remotely interesting at first, but that’s okay because it will all build up to the moment that the identity of the amazing and forward-thinking person is revealed down in the comments, possibly causing the internet to wonder if the post is actually the most interesting post ever, although it absolutely isn’t.

A post shared by Oatly (@oatly) on

I know, it’s one of my fantasies too. 

What can your business learn from Oatly?

Quite a lot, really. 

  • Don’t sit on the fence. If you’re going to be a challenger brand go full hog and commit. Expect the bad press and roll with it. At least you stand for something.
  • Humour gets the likes. As any good storyteller knows, illicting an emotion in your audience will make them want to tell it again on your behalf. Make your audience feel something so they share it with everyone they know.
  • Give a shit about execution. Your brand tone of voice comes through everywhere – your visual aesthetic should be singing from the same hymn sheet. Make them work in harmony. 

Want to execute your own tone of voice like a pro?

Sounds like you need our team of Tone of Voice Warriors. They’re also called Ruth and Amber – feel free to get in touch to see how they can help.