It has become practically holy writ in the voiceover industry: The announcer voice is dead!

This conventional wisdom has permeated every inch of the business, and the evidence in favor of the argument is undeniable. Turn on your TV or your radio today, and 50% or more of the voices you hear have an under-30 sound, with various shades and tones of chipper, upbeat, conversational, hip, genuine and, “real.” After all, it’s common knowledge that anyone under 35 tunes out classic broadcast-style voices, ever alert to the unpalatable proposition that someone might be selling something. To connect with today’s youth, one has to have a conversation, not a pitch. Engagement is the coin of the realm. Promotion? So 1990’s.

Perhaps it began with Apple vs. PC, but over the past ten years the world of consumer advertising, (and, by direct association, voiceover,) has dramatically re-engineered its strategy to focus on the evolving manner in which the coveted 18-30 demographic responds to marketing. Agencies have become staffed predominantly by that same demographic….young, trendy achievers with a quick wit who are self-defined by what makes them unique. Naturally, the content of advertising has changed to keep pace, and thus the Era of Conversational Voiceovers has been born.

There is, of course, still work out there for big booming Voice of God types. It has decreased in recent years as the conversational trend has matured, but the market still exists. Nevertheless, even in traditional power-voice realms like movie trailers and promos, younger, more, “relatable,” voices have begun to edge their way in. The game has changed.

Time for the VOGs to pack up their Neumanns and call it a day? Not so fast.

Without a doubt, all of the market research indicates that under-35’s respond poorly to traditional voiceover styles and corporate pitches. This is not in dispute. Equally true is the fact that many over-35’s who grew up with classic advertising styles are more likely to respond to those familiar voices and pitches than they are to positioning geared towards an audience younger and trendier than themselves. As we age, whether we like to admit it or not, we all start to become a little bit more like a grouchy Clint Eastwood character, grumbling under our collective breath about whatever those young punks are up to today. I saw a commercial for a major sneaker brand yesterday featuring aggressive music and menacing looking teens modeling the product in a patch of urban blight, and I am now far less inclined to buy their shoes.

Of course, none of this matters right? After all, it is the 18-30 demographic that drives purchasing. So it has always been, so it shall always be.

Alas, such are not the times in which we live.

Never in the modern, media-age history of the United States has there existed such a wide and increasing disparity in purchasing power between old and young as there is today. Young people are getting poorer, faster, while those who grew up with ads voiced by classic golden-throats are padding their bank accounts like never before. According to the Huffington Post, youth unemployment in the United States now stands at a staggering 16% for those between the ages of 18-29.(http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/05/america-youth-unemployment_n_3219671.html) This doesn’t account for those who have simply stopped looking for work, or those who are underemployed. This translates into real numbers, and should be a big red flag for advertisers with regard to their future marketing strategy. The New York Times notes that, “The average net worth of someone 29 to 37 has fallen 21 percent since 1983; the average net worth of someone 56 to 64 has more than doubled,” and, “The millennials’ relationship with money seems quite simple. They do not have a lot of it, and what they do have, they seem reluctant to spend.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/magazine/do-millennials-stand-a-chance-in-the-real-world.html?ref=business&_r=1&)

Additionally, advertisers tend to forget that consumers with less education, regardless of their associated limited income, are the largest drivers of household brand purchases for basic consumer goods. The struggling young single mother trying to feed her family is no more likely to be impressed by a hip and trendy commercial for toothpaste than a successful 50-year-old lawyer. Just as the lawyer might counter-intuitively find attempts to be, “real,” in advertising to in fact be inauthentic by their very nature, someone without a collection of diplomas might find them condescending. In essence, the echo chamber of the advertising business, now owned and operated by generations X and Y, may have created a self-perpetuating dynamic that is fundamentally ignoring those who are not their peers, and potentially impacting client sales in a negative manner.

Ultimately, the pendulum may well begin to swing back, as companies begin to realize that the over-emphasis on appealing to the current generation of young people is not justified by the economic data. When this shift occurs, the renaissance of the announcer voice may well commence.

Until then, have a listen to my, “Conversational Commercials,” demo. It’s on my website. Prominently.

Oh, and get off my lawn!

24 COMMENTS

  1. You are a wonderful writer and this is fabulous article. Going to print out to share with all my classes and students (and friends) and I have a voiceover meetup group in Dallas where I live with 150+ members. Meets monthly and this Thurs is meeting. Gonna read it out loud to them. Absolutely marvelous. This is my 40th year in voice overs and I’ve done major natl. campaigns. With the downturn in commercial work (for ALL ages) which seems nationwide, I’m doing mostly audiobook narration now. Also have studio and do vo demos and other audio production work for people. Give seminars nationwide by invitation and also do guest professorships at colleges about twice each year. Stay in touch. Also love your characcature drawing. Best of everything to you. Bettye Zoller

  2. They kept telling me to get rid of the announcer in me. I didn’t have the heart to part with something so dear. So I put it away. You know, up there on the top shelf. Some day one of those agency staffers will have an epiphany and will be desperate to find one. Then all I have to do is bring it down, dust it off and poof…”A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty ‘Hi Oh Silver.” Fred Foy is born again.

  3. I really enjoyed your keen observations Michael!

    The move away from the announcer-style delivery, goes beyond the preferences of certain age groups to please specific demographics.

    The fact is that people like to buy, but they don’t like being sold. That accounts for the shift toward a more natural delivery.

    Old-fashioned announcers were trying (too hard) to sell, and modern day actors attempt to softly persuade.

    When one looks at how acting has evolved in the last 30 to 40 years, we can see the same shift, from a rather formal and more dramatic delivery of lines (dating back to the theatre), to a conversational, relaxed style we see in the movies.

    Just like you, I believe there’s a place for the announcer voice. It’s ideal for spoofs, parodies and period pieces.

    Other than that, I hope the announcer voice will rest in peace.

  4. I was ever so fascinated by what you highlighted here, JMC. I think you’ve got your trusty finger on the pulse of what’s actually going on. Cheers for the brilliant information you shared with us. (…and how like Paul Strikwerda to showcase it on Facebook.) BTW: I feel the same way Bettye Zoller feels; your Retro drawing choice is swell and I pressed ‘print’ as well! 🙂

  5. Michael,
    I am so glad you wrote this article. I worked for years in the broadcasting industry and I get told all the time that I have too much of a radio voice. Although I understand what coaches are going for these days, as I listen to TV commercials, I would say that at least 15-20% of what I hear are the hard sell type of adds. Listen to the national commercial for Toyota. I have heard it many times during the evening and it is the announcer guy talking to a crowd not a one on one conversation. Great article.

  6. The boy next door. The gal down the street. The person in the car next me. These are the dudes voicing the scripts and they are becoming cliche. I wonder what the next sound will be. A renaissance of “Announcer?” Perhaps. Or, a continuation of more actors or people who can imitate an actor stepping up to the mic. Hard to say. Great piece, though.

  7. Great article, my delivery style is of this genre’ you speak of, you know conversational, guy next door, probably because I don’t have the David Lee kahunas(or any of the other big balled voices that you hear on every radio station ever), but my delivery style has brought me more money than the hard sell announcer guy or announcerish guy.. I am constantly trying to improve the acting ability of my voice, how to turn this conversational voice over into a more believable character for my clients. The Mike Rowes (who has one of those deep voices, but remains as conversational as it gets) of voice over is perhaps my goal, but we shall see what the next decade brings us.. maybe we’ll all sound like Siri

  8. Wonderful insights in your article, JMC.

    It will be interesting to see how the trends you have noted will overlay with the “graying” of the Baby Boom generation. As this large segment of the population moves into their retirement years, what style/voice type will they respond to most? And to what extent will that segment be targeted, or ignored by those who will be writing tomorrow’s ad copy (who are all 11 years old as we speak)?

  9. Hey JMC – Good Piece! But I think you could have made it refer to “Announcer/Older Voice” as well. In any case, I think your reasoning could lend optimism to “Older-sounding” voices as well. Thanks.

  10. Very insightful article, Michael! Another thing I would add is that the over-35’s as a group are different consumers than their parents were at the same age. Before I became a full-time voice over talent, I was an advertising account executive, and I have witnessed this first hand. Baby Boomers and Gen X consumers are more open to change and adapt better to new ways of doing things than previous generations. This gives them more voracious appetites for newer styles and technologies, and, as you point out, they have more income than the younger generations with which to fulfill those appetites.

  11. Michael, thank you for such a well thought out piece; very informative. I think you’re right. There is now a gradual shift in terms of where the spend is increasingly coming from demographically, which I think will create a much more balanced use of voice over artists in their various age/voice-related categories. Interesting times.

  12. Really enjoyed reading all aspects of this article, Michael.
    And that the over-empahsis pendulum swing has begun …
    Funnily enough, I once “sold”; [presented a breakfast radio show ]to the over 35 demographic, … when I was under 30.

  13. It seems the contemporary world chooses the amateur over the professional in many creative fields. This seems very clear in the voice field today. I started as an actor in theater and radio before the advent of TV. Lorne Greene had been my teacher at his Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto. I did my first network drama with the late Leslie Nielsen and my first radio commercial with Monty Hall. At the time in the commercials world, anything but the stentorian approach was deemed foreign, perhaps anti-Christ. At the time, the average man on the street spoke a different English in America and Canada and in England as well. There was class distinction. Low classes had ugly or comical accents, mispronounced words, and slurred. The middle and upper classes enunciated clearly, projected and spoke with authority. In our contemporary classless society, it has all evened out somewhat so that the majority sound bad. As a youngster I got the impression that a speech defect was part of the criteria to becoming prime minister in Canada. We had several who really struggled when making speeches. I don’t know what it is but even today I have trouble understanding many of the on-air folks in Toronto which hosts the networks. When I switch to little Buffalo, I have no trouble with any of the voices on local TV or radio. To be fair, when I switch to Canada’s Barrie, a semi-country town, the voices are clear and they speak out.

    Hollywood, run by the moguls with stars under seven year contracts never let the stars go idle. When not filming they took speech lessons, fencing, dancing, singing. Every player, even the broadest character actors could be clearly understood whether screaming or whispering. Half of today’s stars, who try for a “natural” approach, have me asking, “What did he say? Huh? What was that?” Well, it’s natural, alright, because the idiot next door they try to emulate sounds a bit like that, too. I once went into a high school to ask them to excuse my daughter from gym due to a foot problem and while waiting to speak to the principal I listened to a student murder the English language, “like this and like that and like I don’t know what.” It turned out, she was not a student but a teacher. I switched from performing to writing and producing and got myself a fairly good career on Madison Avenue, peaking as V.P. Creative on America’s biggest TV spot account. At one time, in the mid-1950s on the Tide account, I sought a way to improve on a series of commercials which were quite effective but always ended up turning me off because of the stentorian wrap up by our announcer. P&G had smartly made a deal with a whole bunch of top loading washer makers to deliver the machines to customers with a box of Tide in the machine. The commercials claimed that Tide was so perfect for top loading washers that over twenty manufacturers put a box of Tide in them. These were 60 second commercials written as little dramas. The washer delivery man would arrive, the housewife would be surprised about finding Tide in her washer, the delivery man would plug the product mildly and then the announcer with a dozen testicles and the voice of Godzilla would reiterate the whole pitch and ruin the little drama. I wrote a new commercial in which I removed all “sell” words from the characters. This was radio. The audience couldn’t see. I have the housewife say, “Oh, my goodness, what’s this doing in my washer?” At this point, I had the announcer come in with a whisper, “Mrs. Jones has just discovered a box of Tide in her new GE washer.” The delivery man says, “Oh, yeah, Tide, we put that in all the top loading washers.” I introduced the announcer as an observer in the scene and described his approach as “Sotto voce.” In the end wrap I kept him in that low key voice which kept him in the scene as opposed to having him bellow the lines like a rude intruder. That was at Benton & Bowles. They all ran to their dictionaries to check on “sotto voce.” They loved the intro of the announcer in the scene but at the end they still wanted him to do what everybody else was doing; turning off the listeners by shouting. I hired the fantastic Bud Hiestand once on the West Coast for some voice overs on a group of TV commercials. Bud had one of the greatest natural voices. He was also an actor and could give you anything you wanted. When he did the first take with that powerful voice, I stopped him and said, “You are God here. God doesn’t shout. He speaks slowly and with authority. I decided right then to have him pause for a beat between sentences and then I would drop in pings on echo as if coming from another planet.

    “Here is the greatest discovery in bleaching since the sun.” PING “Lestare.” PING. “Like the sun, Lestare bleaches with Oxygen.” PING. The product was in deep trouble and was about to be delisted before we ran that campaign. In less than a week, the stores ran out of stock and the brokers were screaming why we didn’t warn them that such a powerful campaign was coming.

    In the arts there are always trends that the mindless follow. We happen to be going through a very bad period in many fields; in voice work, in music, in TV programming and in films. It is bound to get better because it can’t get much worse.

  14. Great article. Two funny things to ponder: I’m a 51 year old American voice-over artist living in the UK. I keep seeing these ads on TV here in England for British Seniors Life Insurance, available to people over 50, so you don’t leave your loved ones in the lurch. I guess if all else fails, we’ll still have those commercial opportunities…at least for a while.

    I understand that during this year’s Super Bowl several of the commercials didn’t have a voice-over at all, leading me to wonder whether things have have gotten so “regular guy,” that the regular guy has actually disappeared.

    As they say here in the UK: “Keep your pecker (i.e. nose or chin) up.”

    Regards,
    Mike

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