I Hear Voices

And that’s a good thing for my clients. I not only listen to the quality and timbre of the voices of the people I hear on radio and tv, both of the regular on-air staff, and of the ones used in broadcast commercials, but I also listen for the same things in the people I come in contact with every day. And when I’m writing a commercial, I’m hearing the voices of the people who will deliver the message.  Then, in my role of producer, I try to match a real voice to the one I envisioned (or “enheard”).

Sometimes that means listening to dozens of pre-screened voice demos from  talent agencies.

Of course, I also have to work within the parameters of the client’s budget—just because I know that Brad Pitt has the perfect set of pipes for my local commercial doesn’t justify my trying to book him for the spot. Nor do I line up a celebrity impersonator, although I’ve used good impersonators from time to time—with great success in spots that use the vehicle of humor. Bad impersonators unfortunately are almost literally a dime a dozen, and while using one of them keeps production costs down, they also are an annoying distraction from the message and the image of the client and his or her product or service, just like attempting to use humor that falls flat. Usually that commercial just builds for sixty seconds to climax with a so-called punch line. So, now you’re into “negative marketing.”

Make sure the voice is appropriate to the situation; you don’t want Ted Baxter doing his fake bass in a “slice of life” spot that is supposed to be depicting the average Joe talking to the average Jane. And look at the script for your slice of life commercial—do people in real life really repeat the name of the client and the phone number that many times?*  The dialog should reflect the way real people talk. Some times slice of life spots have as much connection to reality as realty tv shows do.

When planning on running radio or tv commercials, either for a short flight or an extended campaign, don’t have production costs tacked on at the end as an afterthought.

Bad execution can ruin a great script. Sure, the salesman (excuse me, “account executive”) from a radio station tells you that not only can they write a script for you, they’ll produce the spot for you—for free and donate the talents’ voices if you’re just going to run on their station. Remember, not only do you get what you pay for, you also get what you don’t pay for—irritated and/or unconvinced potential customers. I really don’t understand how some of these voices can be on the air in the first place, let alone on every low budget commercial that runs on their station.

You might get lucky with the script, usually it’s written by an overworked traffic person, fresh out of college or by the account person. There’s a reason that they aren’t out making a living writing—they can’t.

Your receptionist may not have the right voice to play your receptionist on the air. She may have a voice that is actually annoying to people who don’t know her and can’t see her friendly smiling face.

A few more helpful observations on this topic will be the subject of the next blog.

Meanwhile, let me leave you with this:

For years, every Fall, a client who owned a health club would entertain pitches from various radio stations for his annual membership drive. When he picked the station(s), he’d give them a fact sheet and take them up on their offer of writing a script at no charge for him. I’d tell him how wrong he was (He had become a friend, so I could get away with it) and that he was wasting his and everybody else’s time by trying to get an effective commercial from under-qualified and overworked people to whom he had not been able to convey his vision of his club.  He responded that he didn’t want to miss out on any approaches we might have overlooked. And just before the indoor season started, as regular as calendarwork, he’d call me in. He’d say, “You were right, they had no clue —get to work,” which I did, only after making him promise to take me out for a steak dinner, besides paying my usual fee, for making me scramble at the last minute.

Now, I really couldn’t blame him for trying to get something for nothing, but I kept hoping each year that he would have learned from the experiences of previous years. Hope is a wonderful thing.

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*About that phone number: Unless it’s incredibly easy to remember, like 888-888-8888, don’t bother with putting the phone number in the spot. A good portion of your listening audience will be driving, and they have enough distractions, from texting to shaving their legs, to bother with writing it down. Repeating the number four times in a commercial, just takes valuable time away from your message. If you have Joel’s Auto Salvage, “Get a Crash Course in Savings,” just mention your website. Once. If its a tricky one like “Joelsautosalvageopen247365.com,” just say “Google Joel’s Auto Salvage.”

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