21 Oct

Lessons from Downton

Downton Abbey: a British period drama set in the early part of the 20th century, in a stately home in Yorkshire.

It’s not really my thing, but, for many, it’s part of their staple diet of Sunday evening TV, ahead of the working week – something to settle down to with a pile of cushions, a Kit Kat, and a cup of tea.

Suddenly, during last Sunday’s episode, this happened:

Yup, shedloads of blood violently vomited all over Downton’s finest linen and silverware.

Fans of the show, and even those who’d just seen the odd episode, were all over Twitter with comments like; ‘it’s like a seen from Alien’ and ‘has Tarantino taken over directing Downton?’
The outrage, shock, disgust (you get the gist) rumbled on for days, in national newspapers.

It’s all a bit OTT, but there’s a point here. Downton Abbey is sedate, plodding, genteel. The worst things that seem to come up are a dispute over some land, some slightly raised voices, or a servant acting in an inappropriate manner.

Having a character vomit blood all over a dining table, splattering his wife with it, is completely out of kilter with the rest of the programme and its general tone.

If a business has a certain tone and they completely change it, or try to go all maverick with a particular advertising campaign, they run the risk of ‘doing a Downton’.
If your general tone of voice says one thing, and your advertising says another, you could find yourself baffling your audience. If British Airways moved from traditional/steeped in heritage/refined, to (for one TV ad) loud/brash/sexy/obscene, we’d think they’d lost their marbles.

If you’re known for having a distinctive tone of voice, you can change it over time, but don’t suddenly veer off to the left: more likely than not, people won’t have a clue what you’re doing (or why), and you’ll simply end up with a lot of explaining to do.

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