The Voiceover Obsession
What’s the second biggest question we get from our Youtube followers after ‘Where do we get it?’ It’s ‘Who is the voiceover!?’ The friendly, calm, self-assured voice of Nutrislicer is the latest to intrigue the VO-obsessed segment of the Youtube public. Were we surprised that the invisible actor was attracting the most attention? Not really.
In commercials, the chosen voiceover artist is the result of careful planning and decision-making. Not only is the human voice one of the most powerful tools for influencing audiences, a voice can become synonymous with a brand in the minds of customers.
In fact, Will Lyman’s voiceover for “The Most Interesting Man in the World” is arguably as compelling as the actor who plays him. A longtime narrator for PBS’s award-winning tv series Frontline, Lyman’s voice is serious, credible, and in-depth. The perfect foil to the parody of exploits performed by The Most Interesting Man.
Strategic branding and influencing aside, what is it about the standalone voice that connects so profoundly with consumers?
Listen, this guy knows.
In storytelling, writers employ a figure known as the Omniscient Narrator. This figure seems to float above the story without a character of it’s own, moving between past, present and future, and knowing what goes on in the minds of the characters. In commercials, the voiceover artist has a similar omniscience. Audiences subconsciously recognize this power and grant it authority. The voiceover KNOWS ALL.
I know I KNOW this person!!
Familiarity. Every artist has their style, every production has it’s signature. Brands may choose to stick with a voice for years because they recognize the association it creates with their product. Consistency builds trust and credibility. Familiar, recognizable voiceovers can also create subconscious lateral connections. Oftentimes we aren’t even aware that, for example, the voice encouraging us to buy a Ford truck is Mike Rowe. You know, the hard-hatted guy who does Dirty Jobs and probably, maybe, really does know about trucks.
Less is More
This may be a stretch, so bear with me here. In his book Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud talks about the enhanced power of simplified characters, asserting that a familiar and minimally detailed character allows for a stronger emotional connection and for viewers to identify more easily. Through the absence of specific details, there is space for the viewer to imagine themselves being similar to the character. Maybe by eliminating ALL the visual details allows the viewer to fill in that gap with whatever image they have in their own minds. This is engagement, and it creates a deeper connection.
So, what does a Voiceover actor need to do to become a compelling vision in the minds of listeners? There are a few key areas that every VO needs to master:
Is it urgent, time-limited, high pressure, punchy with “must end soon” enthusiasm and rapid delivery? Or is the voice wrapped in velvet, luxurious, warmly conveying the idea of decadence and indulgence? Whether it’s a hard sell, soft sell or testimonial, the way it is delivered must match perfectly with the product itself.
The sound recording industry uses the term “presence” as the standard of a good quality voiceover. The word “presence” is defined as a person or thing that is present in a place but is not seen. As an intangible then, “presence” is an indication of how fully the VO actor exists within their words. A great presence imbues more character, more intensity, more aliveness within each uttered syllable.
The tone is all about attitude. How does the voiceover feel about the product? Whether it’s a super cute happy kid excited about Cozy Wings, a video game teen on fire about Zoom Tubes or a calmly authoritative adult encouraging the benefits of Calming Comfort, the tone connects to the viewer on an emotional level.
A person’s voice and the way that they speak is one of the first things that we notice, and tend to remember. We make rapid judgments about people based on what we hear, and the same is true about brands. Voiceovers go a long way toward making sure those rapid yet crucial decisions are the right ones.