‘Tis the season! We’ve been a little sidetracked with all the wonderful events 2020 has brought us so far, but November 3rd is literally around the corner. With just months to go before the election, the campaigning has begun again in earnest and the demand for political ads and compelling voice overs to help drive messaging home is increasing.
The kind of political ad voice they’re looking for…
At its core, voice acting, and political ad voice acting in particular, is about appealing to the target audience and either embodying or influencing their point of view. No matter what demographic the ad is built to appeal to, voice actors are hired to cement the emotional bond between issue and voter. So the kind of voice they look for is one that encapsulates the world the voter lives in and creates an authentic delivery that resonates with them. A voice over pro’s bread and butter comes from an ability to communicate effectively to varied audiences – to understand the message, analyze the script, find the parts of the message to billboard or underplay to serve the message, and the skill to represent that POV and successfully influence voters.
The kinds of political ads they produce….
In the one-two punch of a political attack ad, knowing how to deliver an effective blow takes a precise set of skills. Our secret weapons as voice actors are the right tone of voice, attitude, or turn of phrase that can sway voters against a political or ideological foe. Intimately knowing the ins and outs of effective communication, a voice actor can float and dance in the boxing ring of an attack ad and effectively knock out an opposing stance.
Candidates, special interests, PACs, and other organizations all embrace “going negative” because of its effective power. A consistent, strong voice over the target audience can relate to regularly earns votes. Inciting citizens to come together as a tribe, party, or group of villagers to “fight” an opponent or opposing policy requires a central message they can agree on – and identifying the “ogre” and rallying with pitchforks, torches and hunting parties has worked for ages.
The tea? An election is a popularity contest. Despite our best appeals to intelligence and policy, a candidate often wins or loses based on their image. An effective way for them to increase their likeability and win over voters is with political image ads. In these, it’s very important that the voice over is likable too. Often the delivery is relatable and friendly. Sometimes it’s inspiring. Always it’s confident. Image ads spotlight the candidate for voters by presenting the candidate’s views, experiences, virtues, and how they relate to voter issues in an attempt to garner votes. Choosing a congenial messenger (a.k.a a great sounding voice artist) is critical to an image ad’s success.
By inviting the viewer into the candidate’s world, image ads are meant to highlight their humanity, intelligence, compassion, strength, or humility – whatever traits are sought by their constituency – and reveal who the candidate is in a way that benefits the campaign. Most importantly, the voice over should embody what the campaign wants the public to associate with their candidate and what they want a voter to remember on their way into the voting booth.
We’re a competitive lot, the human race, and we spend a great deal of our time comparing ourselves to others. So comparison ads and the talking points they breed get a lot of traction over the course of a political campaign. Although some believe that pointing out ideological differences between parties and comparing candidates has devolved to name-calling and character assassination rivaling any Hatfield/McCoy or Capulet/Montague interaction, comparison is actually a foundational scientific method for decision making.
In 1979, social psychologist Henri Tajfel, well known for studying aspects of prejudice and identity crafted the social identity theory which postulates that the groups in which people belong (e.g. family, social class, sports team, church, etc) are an important source of pride and self-esteem. We first figure out what the groups are, then which group(s) we belong to, and then proceed to adopt the traits of those groups. He notes that in-group identity is a vital part of who people are. The final step is that we then engage in social comparison – telling ourselves and others stories that resonate as to why our group is best and how others fall short. There is no denying it’s an exceptionally hot tool in the political ad toolbox and voice over actors who understand this strategy can deliver these comparisons effectively to win over voters.
Special interest groups running issue ads are about as common as house flies. So to gain traction with an issue ad and win the argument for their issue, they spend a great deal of time and money to stand out. They work to garner focus on things voters care about most. Though it’s hard to quantify the number of groups, the Encyclopedia of Associations has around 23,000 entries and a great deal of them qualify as “special interest” – so let’s just agree it’s a lot. For almost every major stance or opinion a voter or politician might take, there’s usually a group lobbying for or against it.
In a very real sense, interest groups are the American people and vary widely in their constituency. The hired voice over artist must find the right attitude and emotions that appeal both to the politicians they lobby and the citizens they hope to represent. They can be authoritative and businesslike in one message, comforting and calm in the next, fun and engaging for the audience and message after that. Finding the tone of voice that speaks to a coal miner, nurse, teacher, entertainer, single parent, GenXer/Millenial/BabyBoomer, factory worker, CEO, butcher/baker/candlestick maker, the artist embodies a POV each will relate to and resonate with.
Voter Information Ads
Voter information ads are just that – information on where and how to vote. And even though that information is sometimes turned into a political point itself to argue over, these ads are designed to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to exercise their right to vote. Many different types of organizations run them, from non-profit organizations like “Rock the Vote” to local elections boards and even libraries and other locations that host voting booths. So the voice style delivering the information is quite varied and will be driven by a choice most appealing to the target audience.
From the VO perspective, the important part to remember with these ads is that the voice over is delivering important information that needs to be clearly understood. Here an engaging conversational voice needs to be coupled with confidence, clarity and understanding. They often also layer in enthusiasm and excitement to inspire citizens to get to the polls even if it means standing in lines and waiting for the opportunity to pull the lever, or check the box, or press the button. Finessing these combinations of purpose (excitement + information, etc.) requires a voice actor equipped to master them.