You could argue that commercials drive the voice over industry. With the possible exception of movie trailers, they pay voice artists the most for the least amount of words. The first demo that a prospective voice agent will want to hear from a voice artist eager for representation will be your commercial demo because it's the majority of work they get, and that's not a surprise, because commercials are everywhere.
It used to be that you'd only be exposed to commercials on TV, the radio and in movie theatres. With the internet revolution, now you can't visit your favourite site without navigating promotional popups, rollovers, banners and sponsored posts.
It's good news for the voice over industry - more commercials means more work opportunities after all - but at the same time, the quality stakes are higher than ever. With advances in animation, special effects, high quality cameras and sound design readily apparent in even the most low-budget advertising, a voice over really has to add something special to a commercial for it to be considered a must-have by a marketing team.
Photo credit: Mat Ricardo Photography
A commercial voice over has to elevate the concept, product or service without pulling focus from the visuals, music or sound effects. It has to sell without sounding salesy, or reel off multiple facts and figures without sounding rushed. Whether it's an exuberant high-energy hard sell or a calm, motivational soft sell, or any of the styles inbetween, you need to make it sound like you're talking about a product, service or concept that you value, in your own words. You have to sound believable.
It's a tricky balance, which is why voice artists, including myself, work really hard with coaches, mentors and by ourselves to get it right. Here's 5 commercials which I use as inspiration, where I think the voice actor got it just right.
This caused a bit of a stir in the online voiceover community when it was released in the US earlier this year (which is how I know about it as we didn't get this advert in the UK) because it's historically been pretty rare to hear a female voice narrating commercials for the luxury car market. Especially one that is light, young (aspirational, check) and calm, as opposed to punchy. It sells the concept more than the vehicle, but this allows the visuals of the vehicle to stand on their own.
Voice artist: Lisa Joyce
If you've had a voice reel produced by me or attended one of our voice over workshops in the past few months, you will have already seen this as it's currently one of my favourite examples of an effective soft sell that ticks a whole lot of popular marketing boxes: conversational, aspirational, motivational, sincere, and I'm sure you can add loads more.
It's similar to the Acura advert in style, but it's more targeted at individuals, which is obviously more in keeping with the personal nature of Apple's products. When I asked my clients and workshop attendees why they thought this was an effective voice over, they said they felt he was speaking directly to them, his voice drew them in and they found themselves listening intently and agreeing with his statements. Apple don't need to be overt with their advertising, their branding is now so strong that they just need to gently remind people why people love them so much, and the voiceover for this advert does this perfectly. To paraphrase a fellow voice actor on one of the Facebook VO groups, often big-name celebrity actors don't get it right when it comes to voice overs - but this one does.
Voice artist: Ben Affleck
Want your brand to instantly feel trustworthy, avuncular and with a real sense of a proud history? Hire Sir Patrick Stewart to do your voice over. However, as my chap pointed out to me while I was writing this post, sometimes even an RSC regular can't save a brand
The M&S "Not Just Food" commercials defined food porn in the UK in the mid-2000's, and for a few years, Dervla Kirwan was one of the most-spoofed voices in the country. Her compelling soft, seductive, inviting tone set a standard for this style of voice over and it's still a touchstone for clients & casting agents today. If you're asked to voice a script in a dramatic, portentous, omniscient style as a UK female voice actor, your references will undoubtedly be Galadriel's prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring (Cate Blanchett) or Judi Dench's voiceover in the Chronicles of Riddick trailer. If they want soft, seductive and sensuous, you'll be looking at Dervla Kirwan's M&S voice as your go-to guide.
The ComparetheMarket.com meerkats have proved to achieve that most blessed duo of advertising hopes: they are ubiquitous, but not overly annoying. I don't know whether it's the cuddly toys, the squeaks, Simon Greenall's charming Russian-accented character voice for Aleksandr Orlov (the meerkat in the jacuzzi) or just the idea that a 4+ year marketing campaign can be based on word mispronunciation taken to the absurdist extreme, but the UK loves the meerkats.
According to the director of the commercials Darren Walsh, Greenall had a lot of input into the development of the character: "Simon...was a real joy because he's really funny and kept putting his own Alex-isms into it. He would throw in strange squeaks and sniggers for fun and it just came together so well. We used the edited voice track as a playback during the shoot. It gave everyone a sense of Aleks and his world as we assembled shots."
So that's five of my personal favourite commercial voice overs. I've probably left out yours, so let me know in the comments - what commercial voice over do you really rate?
I'm going to leave you with a commercial that always makes me smile. There's no voice over, and it's actually hard to see what a voice over would add to it. Sometimes, it's just about the music and the people.
This is part 2 of a series I'm doing on great voice overs. Check out my first post in the series, 5 great video game voice overs and subscribe to the blog feed so you don't miss out on future posts.