Using Brand Names in Your Voice Over Demo?
If you’re using brand names such as McDonald’s, Ford, or Pepsi and you actually didn’t record for them officially, read this post.
David Bourgeois at Voice Coaches commented on my previous post about demo critiques and raised a very important point; one that could save you from bearing the nuisance of legal activity!
Unless you are the voice of an official campaign, it may be safer to stick to fictitious company names or leave the product and or company name out altogether.
I’d like to introduce the VOX Daily community to David Bourgeois, President and Creative Director of VoiceCoaches.com. Over the past couple of months, David has become a fan of VOX Daily, commenting on posts that interest him with vigor, veracity and a unique perspective on the industry.
One such comment (the one that inspired this article) recently was posted to an article I wrote earlier today about the critiquing of voice over demos. One of the points David highlighted in his comment was about the use of national brand names and trademarks in voice over demos. His point of view? This is what David’s comment on my previous post was. I think it would do everyone, particularly beginners a dose of good if you take everything David said in this comment (and in general) to heart:
One other area I want to address is the unauthorized use of national brands and product names on a demo. Regardless of the fact that a lot of people do this and, worse yet, many of those teaching in our field suggest doing this, this practice is a pretty bad idea.
Can you use a brand name in your voice over demo?
First off, though it’s a grey area, you technically can’t use and replicate a trademarked brand name without permission from those who own the trademark. Now in reality, I wouldn’t imagine Pepsi is going to pursue legal action against you for making up a fake Pepsi spot on your demo, but they could.
Here is the more important problem. By using well-known national brands on a demo, you are misrepresenting yourself as a professional. Voice actors, even at the highest national level don’t often have faces or names attached to them like actors in visual media do. So if I get a demo with a Ford truck spot on it, am I to assume the voice actor on that demo did that spot? Further more if I throw that demo in with a few others to present to a client, will the client know the difference. Worse yet, will the client feel I am misrepresenting the talent to them?
At our studios we have a very simple solution to this. Demos that arrive with fake national scripts for products or companies that are currently on the market are discarded. I just met with an ad group and many agency reps echoed this.
Rather than misrepresenting yourself, develop your own copy, or work with a friend who can help. At the very least change the national brand names in the scripts you read!David Bourgeois
There are many folks out there who will make a number of excuses for this, but, at the end of the day, using national brands on a demo makes it very hard for those doing the hiring and casting to make accurate decisions… unless you really did do the Pepsi spot!
David Bourgeois and the crew at VoiceCoaches.com are right!
When you can do so, it is in your best interest to take the “Better to be safe than sorry” approach. As David intimated, if you record and mention the name of a brand that you didn’t actually do voice work for, you could get in hot water with the courts.
Although it is unlikely that a company the size of Pepsi will chase a person down for using their name in this way, they very well could.
To add to David’s thoughts, I wonder if the voice actor who had actually been hired to voice a particular spot that had been incorporated by other talents in their demos would have a right to ask that they remove the piece from the demo so as to prevent confusion, particularly if they say that they are the voice of “ABC” campaign and others are voicing the same copy.
Technically, that could do some damage to their reputation if a client wants to hire the Pepsi voice but then backs out because they can’t find the real voice actor or they think that the voice actors who are recording that material (illegally) are the actual voice and the true talent loses work over it.
This is one of the reasons why our team at Voices produced the Voice Over Script Collection (original and public domain narration) and the Commercial Scripts for Radio and Television Ads (original works). All of the commercials are free of brand names (all fictitious) and are royalty-free for you to use so as not to have to worry about having problems with corporations or other voice actors.
Could voice actors along with the companies they record authentic material for big name clients effectively take their own peers to court over some name dropping in a voice over demo using the copy they recorded?
Does anyone have any thoughts on this?
Share them here and let’s get this conversation rolling!
Photo Bloomicon / Shutterstock.com
I understand the thinking, and yes surely a corporate entity could take legal action (but very, very unlikely).
Let’s remember… all agents and clients understand that this is just a sample of your voice qualities for their own particular needs. No deceptive intent here. I think even a judge would come to that conclusion if a case ever came to court.
Has anyone even heard of this happening?
Technically incorrect, perhaps… real world, I don’t think it’s something for us to wring our hands about. Just my opinion.
Anyone out there with similar thoughts?
Best to all,
Thank-you for another insightful post! My comment is about using generic scripts and other public domain material.
In seeking and editing scripts for use in a VO demo, I would just urge talent to exercise some creativity and try to use pieces that nobody else is using.
For more on my somewhat strong opinion about this 🙂 see:
Scripts for the Voice Over Demo
Thanks for the comments about Stephanie’s comments regarding my comments….wow these blogs can get complex!
Again, I agree that the legal aspect is probably much less of a concern than the risk of misrepresenting yourself as a talent.
While a perspective agent or client “may” very well look past remarked material on a demo, you can be assured that many do not. I recently ran into this for something I was casting for the WE Network.
The idea to play it safe with copy is intended as a strong suggestion to give aspiring Voice Actors the greatest opportunity for success, without potentially misrepresenting themselves.
But again, I too seriously doubt anyone will end up in court over this!
Once upon a time … many years ago … in a place where there were maybe 100 people doing VO in a major advertising market, nobody put anything on their demo other than work they had actually done and been paid for. They were recorded on reel to reel or DAT tape and ran up to 5 minutes long.
Then, the cat was let out of the bag. Stories of folks making hundreds of dollars per hour (plus residuals) did the rounds and hundreds, thousands and soon tens of thousands of people thought this was a great way to get rich quickly.
Now we see 60 second demos (soon the norm will be 30 seconds and eventually, just 3 seconds and a slate) full of material with brand names like McDonalds, Pepsi, Google etc. And why not? I don’t see it as bad form or unethical. We are not representing ourselves as the spokesperson for these products – we are showing that we could be and this is how we’d do this spot if we were.
It may be different if a talent has the words, “Got Milk” on their demo or, “Yahooooooooooooooo,” as these are buttons and tags that are virtually trademarks.
No Producer/Director thinks for one second that this is THE voice of the company. They have been around long enough to know that the demo showcases your potential not your history. You are not misrepresenting yourself as a professional – any listener can tell if this is a rookie or a seasoned pro.
Does an actor performing a monologue for the Theatre or Film have to have played that role? Of course not. And a VO talent shouldn’t have to make up names of fictitious companies in order to be ethical.
So, you discard demos with national brand names even if they’re kick ass demos? Isn’t it all about the voice and delivery? So, you take the time to check with every client on the demo to make sure at some point, they have REALLY worked with that client? This is all seems a little silly to me.
The idea that a voice talent would be sued for using a brand name or real copy on a demo is solidly ludicrous. I challenge anyone to show me one actor who has even come close to that kind of frivolous lawsuit. This simply will never happen. (One simple reason: what company doesn’t want free advertising wherever they can get it?) As for “talent “misrepresenting itself,” I find that argument especially silly. We are talking about “demo” tapes! These are a tool used to show how an actor interprets copy, and they are only used by agents and clients to determine if an actor has the kind of vocal quality that they are currently looking to buy. Using a brand name on the demo tape will often help create a more authentic sound image, so why not use them? A word of warning though: using brand names or recognizable copy can also sink your demo like a rock if the spot is not done perfectly. Finally, let’s give agents and casting directors a little credit here. They really DO know the diffence in talent from a hundred miles away. So my theory is this: use the brand names and whatever copy you want, because really it’s all about the talent — and you aren’t going to fool anybody anyway.
As far as using a well known name in a demo, like Ford, McDonald’s or Pepsi, there is NO cause of action for trademark infringement by those companies against a voice talent for use of the name.
Using a company name in someone’s demo does not give rise to a cause of action any more than if I were to use someone’s personal name in my demo, like Dave Bourgeois, or Stephanie Ciccarelli. Of course, if I slandered those company names (or Dave or Stephanie’s), and damaged any of their reputations in my demo, and that demo was heard by a third party, THEN they all could sue me for defamation. But the mere MENTION of their name in a demo, or anywhere else like on the 11 o clock news, is NOT a violation of ANY law.
As to the issue of using copyrighted material on a demo, again, there is also really no cause of action. I would understand how a company would be harmed if a talent used an audition script on a demo PRIOR to the ad campaign being released by the Company, and I could see how a lawsuit may result under that scenario, but in the scenario where an ad campaign has already been released and is airing, there is absolutely NO HARM at all done to the company that would give rise to a claim for damages against a voice talent for using the ad copy on a demo. I think the very worst that will happen is if the company hears their ad copy on a demo and objects, then they may send a “cease and desist” letter to the voice over artist asking the talent to discontinue use of that spot.
Also, before a company could sue for “copyright” infringement, they have to prove that they registered the ad with the copyright office, and I really wonder how often that is done given the nature of the commercial being to drum up PUBLICITY and NOT to make money on it’s own like a movie, tv show or song would do. In fact, isn’t every advertisement a “cost” to a company? So, I submit, why would a company really care about “protecting infringement” of it’s ads? It defies logic!
One point I do take issue with is Dave’s statement in his post that it is OK to use a nationally recognized company name and spot on your demo if you actually recorded that spot for that company for a “real” job, but that it is NOT OK to put a spot on your demo for a nationally recognized company if you did NOT actually record the spot for that company.
I fail to see the logic in this point in that it makes no difference whatsoever legally, whether the voice over artist actually recorded the spot or not for the “recognizable” company. It would be no better, morally or otherwise, to use a spot you actually recorded for a Ford, McDonald’s or Pepsi on your demo if you have NOT gotten permission to use the spot on your demo! The issue is PERMISSION, NOT whether or not you actually recorded the gig.
Also, I don’t quite get the point that you are “misrepresenting” yourself by having spots on your demo that were not actual jobs. Isn’t the whole point of a demo to represent your BEST “work”, whether or not that “work” was actually a job, or the “work” that you did while you recorded the spot for the demo? The acting method in the studio is the same whether you were paid for it or not, and the work was just as hard in the session to record the demo as it would have been had you been “hired” to do it.
I’m sure many would agree that there is a very fine line between having a demo that represents the best of your abilities at any given moment, and having one that is either “Better” than your abilities, or “Worse” than your abilities.
For me, it is WAAAAAYYYYYY Worse to hear a demo from someone that is “overproduced” and WAAAYY better than their abilities so that they will NEVER be able to reproduce it in an actual, paying session, then to hear an excellent demo that TRULY reflects the talent’s current abilities. What COPY is on the demo is simply form over substance. Isn’t having a demo that sounds better than your abilities the TRUE misrepresentation?
And I ask this question, how can a demo that has dummy company names EVER sound professional? To me, this is IMPOSSIBLE, and you might as well just stamp “I am a novice with no experience” on the cover of it, or just throw it in the garbage yourself and save the casting directors the trouble.
This is just common sense and has NOTHING to with breaking the law or “morality” in my opinion. This is a BUSINESS and a VERY COMPETITIVE one at that! You NEED to put your best foot forward or you WILL fail! This ties in to Stephanie’s other question as to whether a voice talent could be sued because they used a well known spot on their demo and thus “stole” work from the person who really voiced that spot as a result.
My response to this is HOW could one EVER prove that?? This business is SOOO subjective that one talent can be hired over another because the casting director’s ex-boyfriend sounds too much like that talent, etc. It’s CRAZY, so HOW could a voice talent EVER have a cause of action against another talent because they “lost” a job to that talent? Isn’t that what happens everyday when we audition (right on this site)? Should we now be able to sue one another because a client picked one of our peers over us?
Thanks for reading.
Thank you for your thoughts on this as a lawyer in the United States.
As I addressed previously on your comment on the article about 3 thing people may not know about audition scripts:
It all comes down to integrity and presenting an authentic image.
If you didn’t do the work for a client, and merely submitted an audition, you cannot use the material on ethical grounds in my opinion, for a number of reasons which I’ll list below:
1. If the voice artist was not selected to brand the company’s image, their recording is misrepresenting the company’s brand.
2. If a recording was not chosen and by virtue of that fact was not compensated for, it really shouldn’t be passed off potentially as something that voice artist was compensated for or chosen to do. That is misleading.
3. While an already aired piece makes it’s way on YouTube, whether through the company’s channel or by means of a fan uploading the clip unlawfully, yes, it does present that company with more promotion and publicity which was the original purpose of the ad, HOWEVER, and this is important to note, it was the approved version of the final cut from the company, not an audition that may or may not be the ideal or official voice of the company.
As the co-founder of a company, I know what it means to develop a brand, nurture a brand and hire someone else to help bring that brand in a meaningful way to the public using voice over. Would I want a voice over out there that I didn’t choose promoting our company and using our script from a posted audition?
The answer is a resounding NO.
Why? Because that’s not the way we chose to brand our company using voice. There are reasons why people get hired and also reasons why they don’t. This isn’t a statement that is meant to incur injury, it’s just how business works.
Does this mean that we would sue the person? Likely not, but it would depend on what the damages were. A cease and desist letter is certainly the best option at first, but if it came to it, I could see companies suing talent over misrepresentation that injured their brand.
Let’s take another look at the scenario you presented wherein the talent records from their home and uses their own resources to do so.
Based upon the logic presented in your comments, one could argue that a voice talent could record a copyrighted excerpt from a national bestseller or even an entire audiobook as read from the pages of a book by a living author and use it for their own promotional means, without consequence, even though the work is not in the public domain and the voice over could potentially misrepresent the author’s intent and their brand.
There are grey areas as you said Rob, and I feel it’s important to make distinctions, even in the midst of these shades of grey. I’ve been planning a series since the summer to be posted on VOX Daily called “Shades of Grey”, and the issues of copyright, trademarks and so on are on the menu.
To address your last point, it doesn’t make sense for a voice talent to sue another voice talent over an audition lost.
First, no one hears each other’s auditions, so how would they know?
Secondly, just because someone has a similar voice type doesn’t mean that they have the same voice.
Thirdly, every voice is unique just as every interpretation of a script is unique, therefore how could someone sue someone else over their unique interpretation of an audition script?
From these posts, the one thing that I think we all agree is NOT a grey area is that using auditioning material for a demo or other purpose, without the permission of the owner of that material, is illegal and unethical.
As to voice talent suing other talent, I think I may have been confused about the original point you were advocating. I thought you had stated that if a talent uses a National spot on their demo when they really didn’t RECORD those spots for the company, and that resulted in the “real” talent losing the work to the talent with the “fake spot” on their demo, could the “real” talent sue the talent with the “fake” spot on the demo. To that, I answered no as per my discussion above.
I completely agree with your assessment in your response.
Thank you again.
Thank you again for sharing your views and also for adding so much lively debate and for finding common ground in this discussion. I’m happy that we all agree that using audition material for a demo or other purpose without the permission of the owner of that material is illegal and unethical.
It’s nice to have a go at these things once in a while and I enjoyed receiving and answering your comments.
On another note, I am also looking forward to chatting with you in New York (we’ll be at the same mixer as per the RSVP list) and meeting you in person 🙂
What we should draw from all of this is that the topic is a sensitive one that many people care about and it deserves further research and warrants additional debate.
Thank you Rob for your insight and I also welcome thoughts from others on the topic should you like to jump in.
And again I agree that many of these legal issues in voice over, like this one, are sensitive and open to debate. I find that voice over is much like law in that sense as, even though laws are written with the intention of being “black and white”, there always seems to be many “shades of grey”, thus, law is really as subjective as the art of voice over in many ways.
EXCELLENT! Yes, I will be at the mixer in NYC and very much welcome the opportunity to meet you in person!
Good morning everyone,
I’d like to add a couple of comments to the previous that might help both new and experienced alike.
First, from copyright,com:
“The way in which copyright protection is secured is frequently misunderstood. Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is “created” when it is fixed in a tangible form, such as the first time it is written or recorded. Neither publication, registration or other action in the Copyright Office is required to secure copyright, although registration is recommended.”
Second, my experience indicates that:
“common sense” and “legal liability” are often at odds with each other.
Third, many if not most performers have included real and imagined national brands in their on-camera demos, voice-over demos and, yes it’s true, their Resumes. You can argue right or wrong, but that’s a fact. Just check the Talent Files at any Agents Office, if you can.
OK, but let me get to my point. I really don’t think this practice is likely to evolve into any sort of legal action. If there is any liability, I think it’s more to be one of perception. Let me explain from my experience with auditions and interviews.
I learned that it was prudent, maybe even crucial, never to indicate in any way that I had participated in a competitors project. And by project I mean, TV or Radio commercial, Voiceover, Print work, Trade Show, or any other publicity event that could in some way tie me to a competitor. Why?
I suppose the potential client is looking for “their” unique image. But often the person(s) they are inclined to select is a working professional that has accumulated a real body of work. And more than likely, in that body of work are potential conflicts. That’s life in our business, but it can be handled.
The downside of including national brands in a VO demo is the possibility of being excluded from new work due inclusion of a particular Brand, whether you performed it or not. On the other hand,
If you’re proud of a piece, if it demonstrates your talent and capabilities, if it shows your development at your craft, than why not let people know.
Remember, NO ONE GETS ALL THE WORK!
Have a nice day,
What is the difference?
If you present a fake spot to a client and they don’t know if it is a real spot or a fake spot what is the difference to them? The spot is going to sound better if the company really did hire them? The voice is better if its a real spot? If a client likes what they hear and you tell them its a fake spot they wont like what they just heard? You don’t make sense. I’m sorry.
Thanks for joining the conversation. A client need not know that a demo was produced from made up spots that use fictitious company names (or no names at all if done very well). Even though there may not be high profile instances documented where trouble has arisen because of a brand name being used in a voice over demo without permission, using a company name or their copy without their consent could lead to legal issues should the company choose to pursue anyone who has violated their copyright or misrepresented their brand. I hope that helps.
This has got me thinking now. I have actually done quite a lot of work for national brand names such as Jaguar, Range Rover, Nokia, Canon, Microsoft etc.
If I now use these on my demos/auditions (with permission) are agents going to dismiss them as being “fakes”, and so not even consider them?
Mm I wonder.
Aren’t we talking about a demo? It is a demonstration of someone’s voice abilities. It is not a demonstration of their copywriting ability. It is not representation of what they have actually been paid for; that would be their resume.
The biggest issue with demos shouldn’t be the brands on them, but the ability for the voice actor to truly perform in a session to the quality of the highly produced and polished demo. As a talent and a talent director, that is far more important to me than whatever content is on the demo.
Doesn’t anyone see that this litany of rambling is being defended by people with services and products to sell?
I will say this and no more:
You as a talent need to sell YOU in the best light possible. But that starts with you being VERY honest with yourself in regard to your talents. If you truly believe you have what it takes to shine on a “demonstative” spot, regardless if it’s real or not, you need to push that and push it hard.
At the end of the day is all about money. The moment you cross the line and begin using these demos to drive traffic to lets say, a YouTube page to start earning income off of it, now you have a serious legal problem on your hands. But until then…ACT, and get working before this industry is reduced to nothing by people that only exist to get in your wallet.
In conclusion, I will leave you all with this:
Will Voices.com not accept your profile with brand-driven demos? Lets take it a step further, will they stop taking recurring monthly or annual revenue from you based on such?
I think you all have the answers to those questions.
Very few are here for the craft, the majority reign for the money, and rules are created by people standing to earn the most by breaking them. Case closed.
A friend of mine from radio has warned me to NEVER use an existing brand name without permission, and especially if it was never a “real” job or gig.
Basically, most clients you start out with will NOT be large companies who all “just know” that you never really did the job for that company, or who are market-savvy enough to recognize that you are just doing a “voice sample”. They will assume you did actually do the job– as well they SHOULD. The idea that b/c someone “recognizes an ad as ‘just a demo’, and therefore it’s okay” is complete & total B.S.
THIS IS THE SAME AS LYING ON YOUR RESUME FOR A JOB!
YOUR DEMO *IS* YOUR RESUME!
If you never worked for a company, then you have NO RIGHT to use their script. Period.
Your demo is NEVER “just” a sample of your voice. It is also a list of your previous experience. A client has the right to expect that what is on that demo IS what you have done before for hire or for free, but ALWAYS for real. Most clients, in fact, DO expect your demo to be completely legitimate.
The idea that fake demos using real companies is “acceptable” is ludicrous! It is NEVER any more acceptable than lying on a resume. If you do this, you are LYING, and misrepresenting your experience.
Besides, the ease of finding and/or creating fake ads that can be customized to your personal vocal strengths, avoiding your weaknesses, and highlighting any unusual talents you have, makes such unethical behavior completely unneccessary. I don’t see why anyone would do so, unless they WERE trying to misrepresent themselves and their experience, and were trying to be fraud.
Ethical VO artists should NEVER use existing material or copy another VO’s work.
Also, copying an existing VO’s work only says that you are a great mimic, and NOT that you know how to best work a script for effect. It says nothing about how well you can interpret material or how YOU would emphasize a phrase, word, etc.
Mostly, I’ll bet if you took a poll of professional VOs, ones who actually got jobs with their demos, and looked at the demos they were using when they got their first gigs, then you would see the same kind of professionalism and ethics that I am talking about; and NOT the lying, cheating, misrepresenting kind of copying that some here are advocating. I’ll BET that VOs who are this kind of fraud never got to be professionals with their demos and don’t get many jobs.
Like many other posters here, I disagree. Using branded commercial copy in a demo is akin to performing a monologue or song from a known show in an audition, or submitting a spec script to a lit agent. Using real branded copy allows the listener to hear more than your voice, but that you know what a Target spot should sound like, versus WalMart or Marshalls, for example. I haven’t heard a single VO actor, agent, or casting person voice a concern about it. Most of the VO performers I know who also produce demos get copy directly from their agents for that purpose, because using real, current copy has proven most effective.
Why in the world would you re-post or tweet an article that is almost 4 years old AND has completely INCORRECT info?
Voices.com just got erased from my “credible” list.
What a joke you guys are.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I’m sorry that we disagree on this topic but do believe that what has been presented by David Bourgeois and others in agreement has merit. Perhaps you might elaborate on why you feel the information is incorrect?
I am not a lawyer, but I am pretty sure that the talent could sue other talent or at least tell them to cease and desist using the name they promoted. I am assuming they could only do this if they still own any intellectual, moral, or any other rights to the voice. I know that intellectual property transfers in a voice over, but I haven’t read about moral rights transferring over. We, in America don’t get a lot of moral right coverage to any of our work via the law, but I know in Europe, you really do!! Let’s say someone decided to use the nationwide spot, but took a twisted twist to it in an actual video when that audio was played…. Well, I am not a lawyer so nothing I should say should be considered as advice, but this could potentially cause issues for you from nationwide and the VoiceOver if they have moral rights to that spot and especially if you used a Original copy of them saying that.
I think that to rubbish talent as novice or amateurish because they use their own made-up brands is not constructive. Everyone has to start somewhere. Besides, new companies with new names start up every day.
A name should make no difference to how you approach a script if your fictitious company is identical to the known brand. We see comparisons between brands and own brands on TV every day.
Names of real brands and people in your work are, in my view, endorsements of and credits to your work. If you haven’t worked for them, you can’t, without deception, claim in your demo that you have.
I also think there are two types of demo: the first is a demo of the work you have done, and the second is a demo of what you can do. The work you have done will, quite rightly, contain the finished production including the brand, whereas the demo of what you can do cannot by virtue of the fact you haven’t. It may be an idea when forming a working agreement that the finished work you produce for your client be used as a demo of your work.
All the best,
The copy right belongs to the creator of the work unless the work is created under condition of employment in which case it probably belongs to the employer, i.e. commercials made for a company will belong to the company or the agency that created (paid for) the work. As an example, a photographer automatically holds the copyright of a photograph he takes, not the subject. To use that owned material, without the specific consent of the owner, for any purpose that results in financial benefit for anyone is illegal, immoral and unethical, by definition. There are certain exceptions falling in the categories of news and education, non of which apply to our current discussion.
The question I hear being discussed her is primarily “Can I get away with being illegal, immoral and unethical in this business.” Probably. Your call.