Whether you’re a copywriter cobbling commercials or performing a script as a voiceover artist, there are big differences between brand ads and retail ads. Essentially the first is about a feeling we want people to associate with a product or service. The second is basically an event. They have different goals, but there’s a lot of overlap in that shared middle space on the Venn diagram between them. Let’s dive in with some commercial voice over tips for each.
How Does Commercial Voice Over for a Brand Sound?
Creative directors, copywriters, and writers in general often discuss the tone of voice in terms of writing. It’s the identity of the brand and that is kept in mind in the creation of all their communications. They refer to the overall feel of the content being created as well as the nitty-gritty word selection and turn of phrase. Jamie Thompson, of Brand New Copy, a creative I follow says when thinking of tone of voice in writing about a brand, imagine it has a personality and how would you describe that? Is it gritty, or sophisticated? Down-to-earth or nerd-cool? Voiceover artists can think this way in crafting a vocal sound that matches the written or visualized brand feel. Brand values are going to also be encoded in the copy, so those need to be identified and teased out to flavor a performance as well.
Brand ads are generally longer than 30 seconds (but not always). But even if they are longer, every line will pack a meaningful punch. This reflects the link between the minimalist direction of copywriting and voice artistry as well as the mediums (mostly new social platforms) that drive these changes. (i.e. Twitter’s 140 characters, Instagram’s visual focus, TikTok’s 60-second limitation) Less is more and paring down to the essentials pushes the art of advertising in new directions and serves brand identity well. (to wit, short simple slogans of major brands: “Just Do It,” “Think Different,” “Coke is it.”)
The work of the voiceover artist is to analyze, create and play within the limited time constraint. Personally, I’ve always loved the small sandbox of short-form voiceover art (aka the 30-second spot). When other kids were playing house and tag, I wanted to play “commercial.” As a classically trained actor, I bring the same kind of preparation to my short-form work as a theatre or film actor might to his or her on stage or on-screen role but make it specific to the medium of advertising. And, like a lot of working actors, this means I’ve honed and built short-cuts to performing over the years to help me get there quickly. ‘Cause, the ad world is one of quick deadlines and tight turnarounds.
Merging Retail with Brand Commercial Voice Over Tips
With retail (or event) ads, there is often (but not always) a sense of contained urgency, because of the time limitation of the event itself. The brand and the creative who wrote the copy are trying to drive customer awareness toward the product, service, or store and they do this through incorporating the 4 P’s of retail ads: product, placing, pricing, promotion. But advertising and sales of anything have shifted dramatically in recent years because consumers have altered their habits. We research online (a lot) before we buy, so the purpose of retail has shifted to be highly instrumental in the discovery phase of this step in the consumer buying process. The flavor of retail ads from both a writing and a voiceover perspective then is a lot more along the lines of “Hey, did you know?” and pointing people in certain directions, then the former style of “come and get it.”
At the same time, it’s critical for the voiceover artist to be aware of the brand even if what you’re voicing is an obvious retail spot. If it’s a regional sale on an automotive product, it will be a different kind of delivery if the auto brand is trucks, family vehicles, or luxury rides.
More Voice Over Tips – Thinking Like a Copywriter
The copywriter has had days, if not weeks or longer to translate the client’s needs into a beautiful short-form story. Pretty much every word has been mulled over, edited, rewritten, and finely crafted to artfully convey the message the client wants their customers to hear. As a voiceover artist, your scriptwriting analysis capabilities should be laser-sharp. Before you open your mouth and use your voice, you need to deep dive into the words. It’s about so much more than just reading. Anyone can read. You are called upon to perform. Often, quickly.
So, like the copywriter, you need to live in the world of words. Read. A lot. Try writing yourself. Understand flow and word choice and subtext and the purpose of each phrase. Why did the writer choose this word? This line. It’s not random. There’s a deep meaning hidden in the words. Your job is to unlock it.
Shout Out to Learning & Using More Voice Over Tips
My first love in voiceover has always been commercials, years before my first paying (national spot for a Yoplait yogurt ad) gig over 30 years ago. With this love and respect for the medium of voicing ads, I created a 6-week, 12-hour workshop for voiceover artists, where we study several aspects of voiceover performance. Ads and how to unpack their meaning and approach them authentically are the focus for over half the time in the course. If this interests you in any way, give me a shout-out.