An Alexa skill to question the very nature of humanity

Our friends at Screenmedia were approached to develop a voice experience to promote season three of Channel 4’s award-winning show Humans. The promotional activity for previous seasons had secured Baftas for 4Creative, the broadcaster’s in-house agency.

Like the Turing Test, but with humanity on trial

Humans takes place in an alternative version of the present day. Humans live alongside synths – artificially-created machines that look and act like us. To promote the show, could we create a back-to-front version of the Turing test – one where we test humans to make sure they are not machines?

The first step was a creative workshop with Screenmedia and 4 Creative – setting parameters and exploring the ideas we should develop in our first drafts. We then agreed the scope for a test script, which would act as a creative proof of concept.

Slots, narrative call-backs – and another voice for Alexa

It wasn’t going to be enough to create a one-dimensional parlour game. Everyone on the project wanted to push the technology as far as it could go. So we built complex question sequences which gave Alexa an air of genuine intelligence and perception – backed up with a selective use of pre-defined ‘slots’. This allowed Screenmedia to code specific responses relating to the user’s response. The effect is uncanny.

Alexa also responded to many of the inputs from the user – and even handed over to a human when it’s clear the user could be about to fail the test. All of this needed to be scripted, in a spreadsheet which grew to over 200 rows.

The most popular Alexa skill of all time.
And a D&AD winner to boot.

Within a month of going live, The Human Test broke all records for an entertainment skill on Amazon Echo. Then came a crop of awards, culminating in a coveted pencil from D&AD. It looks like we passed.

Want to talk voice skills?

An impossible video for an impossible whisky

Tamdhu Single Malt Speyside Whisky was born in the industry’s late Victorian boom; the distillery opened its doors in 1897. The distillery had a reputation for impeccable craft, but record keeping was perhaps not its strong point.

The starting point

When a cask of 50-year-old Tamdhu was uncovered in the 2010s, nobody could quite believe it. The brand team was clear: the bottling – and the marketing – would need to be very special indeed.

Crafting the words

Our friends at Good Creative had already set about designing an astonishing package and bottle for this true one-off of the whisky world. We spoke in turn to each of the creators: the international glassware expert, the crystal designer, and even the silversmiths who hand-crafted an intricate collar for each and every bottle.

At the same time, the brand had commissioned a video to show the craft that goes into each of these bottles – from spirit to glass. Would we like to write the script?

Poetic licence

How to bring the care of each craftsperson to life, and at the same time speak to the history of the Tamdhu brand? The answer simply could not be a standard script. Instead, we researched 20th century poets, looking for a piece with the right tone. We came close, but not close enough for our liking – so we set about writing our own sonnet-like verses, observing the strict line lengths and syllable stresses to give the poem the weight it needed.

The result was an almost instant confirmation that all of the initial release had been sold. Quite an achievement when each bottle retails for £16,000.

Want us to find the words to market your super-premium spirit?

A huge website on a tight schedule

More than 100 pages of content reviewed, refreshed and rebranded. Quicker that you can say ‘tickets please’.

A dash to the station

Avanti West Coast was taking over the West Coast Main Line after 20 years of Virgin Trains running the franchise. With a website already in development and the handover date approaching, Avanti West Coast needed all their website copy signed-off in just nine weeks. No small task when that meant reworking more than 180 pages.

Getting the band back together

We know our way around train line copy – we previously worked with our agency friends Altcom on the East Midlands Railway website. 

This was a high-stakes project with a short timeline. We needed a process to draft, edit and review large volumes of content at near-impossible pace. So that’s what we created.

We delivered content in batches to ease the burden on those uploading it all, collaborated through Google Docs to avoid snags in the feedback process, and used a mammoth spreadsheet to tick off the SEO considerations for every single page. 

All aboard!

We probably don’t need to tell you that Virgin is one of the most widely recognised brands on the planet. The new site had to deliver a seamless continuation of Virgin’s service, while also introducing the Avanti West Coast brand. No pressure then.

We replaced Virgin’s sass with Avanti’s welcoming warmth, while making sure the customer journey wouldn’t be jarring for those familiar with the old website. Clarity was key.

The result is a site that’s easy for users to navigate – whether they’re looking to buy tickets, check train times or get trip inspiration. And Avanti West Coast made the right first impression with the British public. 

Need help getting ready to launch?

Many ideas, united under one voice

The global leader in intellectual property tech needed to quash confusion and find a consistent voice.

A brand built on good ideas

CPA Global connects millions of intellectual property professionals every day, and helps bring the world’s brightest new ideas to life, faster. Its challenge: to find a voice that could unite the many aspects of its business.

From many voices to one

CPA Global’s purpose is clear. But like many brands built through acquisition, the company lacked linguistic consistency. Everyone was doing their own thing. So we studied every piece of content we could get our hands on and found the threads – linguistic and otherwise – that bind this organisation together. 

Balance was key. The company needed a tone of voice that was comprehensive enough for every employee to feel represented, but straightforward enough for everyone – from the CEO to the summer intern – to put into practice.

Skilled in simplicity

From this complicated background of inputs and outlooks, we created three tone of voice ‘truths’ to focus CPA Global’s positioning and personality. All broken down into practical tips and detailed techniques, delivered in a brand language guide we designed to be picked up and used. 

Making it stick

Of course, a successful brand language is one that everyone in the company uses. And a 30-page brand language manual can be off-putting for some. So we also created an entry-level guide that strips away the strategy and explains nothing but the essentials: a tone of voice hymn sheet that everyone can sing from.

Unite your organisation under one voice.

Large scale content optimisation at speed

With our smart process stored safely overhead, we refreshed more than 100 pages of content against the clock.

A new website at high speed

East Midlands Railway (EMR) was set to take over from the East Midlands franchise in August 2019. They came to us three months before with a big ask: could we refresh the copy for their new brand identity and website in time? Challenge accepted.

Content optimisation, at scale

The brief came with two big caveats:

1) Don’t change the user experience too much 

2) Keep the copy as functional as possible

We got ourselves up to speed, as it were, with the ins and outs of routes, timetables, railcards, stations and more. We also got to grips with the many data sources and APIs used to build a rail company website. This highlighted where to flex our creative brains. And what to leave well alone.

We improved the overall tone, strengthened headlines and optimised metadata. With thousands of changes across hundreds of pages, we established a process to make sure every page was cross-referenced against our style guide by more than one writer; consistency secured.

A structured process

A good relationship with the lead agency, Altcom, was essential. Together, we set up a content optimisation process to balance pace with precision. Central to this was delivering content in batches. Why give the development team the headache of uploading a content tsunami on deadline day? This tiny change helped sidestep major bottlenecks down the line.

It also meant we could make amends and write new content at the same time, using the entire team of Blackad copywriters. Best of all, client changes were minimal: we fine-tuned our adapted our approach with each small batch, so copy could sail through the approvals process. With careful planning, seamless teamwork and close attention to detail – delivery stayed firmly on track. (Sorry, we couldn’t resist.)

Intrigued by content optimisation?

Finding the words to describe a brand born in 1833

We worked with our friends at Good Creative, who asked us to help bring this Single Malt Highland Scotch Whisky to new audiences as part of a global repackaging brief.

Don’t mess with the recipe

Every distillery likes to think it does things a little differently. Glengoyne’s points of difference border on the willful: no whisky is distilled more slowly. So where others can boost production in the boom years, Glengoyne stays true to tenets established over a century and a half before. Good Creative defined this as ‘time and care’. We were ready to start. 

Building the brand story

We began with the six pillars of the brand, including the team’s insistence on sourcing exceptionally fine oak casks. This particular supply line takes around eight years to progress from forest to cask. Coupled with the slowest still in Scotland, we had our founding thought: unhurried since 1833.

We then turned our attention to the brand’s other attributes, such the ‘nowhere to hide’ taste of unpeated malt, and colour which is born of time and wood alone. And so another another branding element was created.

The taste of clear thinking

The final task was to find a brand template to describe each expression, from the fresh green apples of the 10-year-old, right the way up to the fruitcake and spice of the 25-year-old.

Researching competitor brands revealed a surprising anomaly: almost nobody leads with a simple, unpretentious description of flavour. What could be a more perfect way of demonstrating the value of the brand’s unhurried approach than leading with the glorious end result?

Want us to add polish to your proposal?

A mammoth bid, boiled down to a simple message.

We sculpted 100,000 words of engineering terminology and regulatory box-ticking around what matters most: customers – and a greener future for all.

Let’s understand the requirements

The UK’s energy network is tightly regulated. Each company must submit a business plan every few years to set out the case for their proposed network developments and pricing. Scottish Power Energy Network’s (SPEN) Transmission division called on our friends at D8 to help make sure their plan clearly and consistently reflected their ambitions.

At 200 pages, 100,000 words, and with enough engineering terminology to power a small city, this was far from a nip and tuck. Through it all, focus was needed around one key message – SPEN is leading the transition to a low-carbon future and a healthier planet.

Getting to the heart of the plan

Previous plans had been written in sections by individuals and departments within the business. The detail was good, but without a united plan of attack, the finished piece lacked consistency and focus. 

Working closely with D8, we ran messaging workshops with the experts who oversee different sections of the business plan. Many spirited discussions and thousands of Post-it notes later, we had consensus on the core themes that would shape the plan. 

A bid that just makes sense

Then there was the small matter of those 100,000 words. We pored over the teams’ first drafts – editing, restructuring, crafting – to make sure the key messages were loud and clear. Many hours of back and forth with the team helped us fine-tune every last sentence. 

The result: a laser-focused 200-page bid clearly presenting SPEN’s work and their ambitions for the future of our energy network.

Want us to add polish to your proposal?

Unlocking the language behind centuries of history.

The task: help develop this charity’s new brand identity, then write compelling content to match.

Many stories under one roof

Mount Stuart is a striking 19th-century mansion, ancestral home of the Marquesses of Bute. From its world-renowned gardens to its extensive art collection, every inch of Mount Stuart is rich with history and significance. Operating as a charity, it has to balance many different commitments – to education, the island, progress, and the past. Commissioned by our friends at Graphical House, our job was to communicate the full scope of their offering, and give online visitors a better idea of what to expect from a trip to Mount Stuart. 

Meeting the team behind the mansion

A visit to Mount Stuart and a full tour of the grounds gave us some of the insight we needed. We soon had a good grasp of how the organisation works. But it wasn’t until we started chatting to the people that we really started to understand Mount Stuart. That began with a full brand language and value proposition workshop, bringing together every part of the team.

In another one fascinating day, we met everyone from the gardens team to the custodians of the precious archives. Our informal interviews revealed that it’s the staff, the Mount Stuart ‘family’, that are the true fabric of the organisation. 

The voice of the team, unlocked

Our discovery during these visits inspired a new value proposition. We also refreshed the organisation’s values, as well as crafting a new personality and messaging.  

From these, we created web content that tells the full story of Mount Stuart, It’s engaging and inspiring, as well as functional and easy to navigate. At last, the organisation’s true breadth of history, hard work and connections  with the community are open for all to appreciate.

What’s your unique story? Let’s tell it.

Crafting a brand voice with poise

We designed a multi-layered brand language that elegantly translates the aesthetic into the linguistic.

Speaking to a more modern style

In 2017, Scottish Ballet was debuting a modern new look thanks to a brand refresh by global creative agency, Fabrique. But this work was firmly focused on the aesthetic – it stopped short of a full brand language refresh. 

Enter Blackad, stage left.

Flexing the fundamentals

We’re big on process, but adaptable in how we apply it. This was crucial here. We adapted our framework to pick up where Fabrique left off – translating their thoughtful brand work into a fully-functional language platform. 

Step one was to translate the brand insights into a set of truths that would underpin every piece of content. We expressed these as characteristics that would guide how the company communicates. 

Playing to our audience

Many brand language guides stop here. But we know team members find these high-level definitions hard to put into practice without extra guidance.

So we created detailed explanations of what each truth means to Scottish Ballet, and provided a selection of linguistic approaches to create each effect on the page. These ranged from a compendium of ‘motion’ words that subtly weave movement into everything they write, to a ‘transport the reader to the front row’ technique that reflects the emotional impact of live performance.

Stories for the senses

With the fundamentals of the brand language in place, we turned our hand to expressing it in specific contexts – from a rousing expression of the brand values that adorns banners inside the Ballet’s Glasgow home, to a ‘give the reader a story to share’ approach to promoting performances.

By the time we’d finished, the team were inspired and engaged. And so were their audiences.

Discover your brand voice…

Finding the right words, from bowl to blog

By switching carotenoids for cuddles, we helped the leaders in tailor-made food for dogs transform the customer experience.

How do we make this more dog?

The team behind tails.com came to us with a simple brief: ‘we want to be more wag.’ More specifically, they wanted to add emotion to the scientific bedrock of their product.

We ran discovery sessions. We dug into market research. We watched the team at work. Then we created a tone of voice that captured the essence of the brand: a team of dog-lovers on a mission to make the world’s canines happier and healthier. 

When language is a brand’s best friend

The brand language was built using our Three TruthsTM process. We then created a suite of practical advice on bringing it to life, so the whole team could put it to work.

Lessons in wag

With the top-level strategy set, we helped the team roll it out across every area of the business. Our workshops introduced the new tone of voice to the marketing, product, brand and customer experience teams. These sessions were full of real examples and detailed exercises, helping the team to tell the brand’s story with consistency and charm.

Balancing science and brand

Small differences in nutrition copy can make a big difference. To keep tails.com’s content accurate and informative, we added a glossary of phrases for the team to use where pinpoint accuracy is vital. We also included expressions the brand should never use – whether for accuracy or tone – to stop these from creeping into the collective vocabulary as the organisation grows.

Climbing the SERPs and eating poo

We wrote everything from the company’s web content and product packaging to blogs about how to stop your dog eating her own poo. Yes, really. A key target was to achieve featured snippets that would establish the brand as an authority in dog nutrition. 

Transform the way you communicate your brand