Stylised v Natural – the battle of the voiceover style rages on!

Stylised v Natural – the battle of the voiceover style rages on!

Sunday
Nov 25 2007

Stylised v natural – the battle of the voiceover style rages on!

When I was taught to voice, the style was everything. If I hadn’t have learned the upsy-downsy conventions peculiar to price / product ads, lists, call-to-action delivery, credit examples and so on and so on, I wouldn’t have got past first base and instead of being gainfully employed on Planet Voiceover, I’d probably have ended up working in a dodgy burger bar.

Evolving style

When I first started there was a distinct ‘way’ of delivering ads with a whole rack of prescriptive inflections. And if you didn’t do them, you didn’t get booked. Now though, just a few short years later, voiceover style is evolving again. Instead of a polished, highly stylised read the fashion is now shifting to embrace a more laid back, natural approach. And these days even regional accents are encouraged – a big no-no a few years ago.

My theory on this is that chiefly, consumers have become a lot more savvy. They don’t like being sold at in an aggressive way and they can sniff out an attempt to be sold at from a hundred paces. With more and more people buying stuff on the Internet, watching more commercial TV channels, listening to a load more radio stations and so on, we’re a much more savvy consumer society and we don’t like being boldly sold at, dictated to or explicitly persuaded. Today, the art of the voiceover is to achieve all these objectives but to succeed, this must be done by stealth…

Tools

The vocal tools at the voiceover’s disposal are pitch, pace, pause, power, inflection and tone colour. And accent. (Accent is a big one I think). In these heady modern times, more often than not the read the producer chooses as the final take is the one with the lower pitch, the slower pace, the most pauses, less power, smoother inflections and richer tonal variety. (If, let’s be honest, the copy allows it…) Essentially, the voice most like that of the ideal consumer.

Gone are the days when the voiceover was expected to sound as if they belonged to some weirdo marketing cult from space – now producers want voiceovers to sound real. Real is the new honest. I think there’s been a shift in marketing-speak, albeit coded into the voiceover’s style of delivery; consumers are more likely to believe what they’re being told if they’re being spoken to by a normal-sounding person instead of an artery-busting Voice-a-tron.

Accent

I’ve talked at length elsewhere about the dominating force of Received Pronunciation and how it’s shaped our perceptions of class, aspiration, credibility, social stereotypes and so on. In my job, I’ve seen how RP’s dominance has receded in recent years; today, speaking in an RP accent sounds ‘plummy,‘ old fashioned and stiff. Slowly but surely Estuary English has crept into the media and has become the accent of choice (mainly) for advertising. Estuary English isn’t as clipped, as phonetically perfect as RP and consequently sounds more relaxed and the speaker more accessible. Accents too have slipped under the wire; Scottish accents are popular for ads for financial institutions or companies who need to sound ethical and trustworthy; West Country accents for homely, comforting products; Northern accents for down-to-earth no-nonsense stuff and so on. We’re still using regional accents in ways that enforce social expectations but I think we’re doing it with less prejudice.

The voices used in advertising today are more inclusive, more representative of the touchy-feely noughties ideal consumer and more real than they have ever been before.

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