Behind every effective commercial that drives its listeners to make a purchase or engage with a brand, is a well-written voice over script.
An acceptable voice over script will tell the voice actor what to say, include a description of the sound effects and backing audio or ‘music bed’ that must be added during the editing process, and provide an overarching vision of your audio project.
You don’t need to be a seasoned dramatist or pro copywriter in order to pen a script that captures your audience’s attention and compels them to engage with your brand. You do, however, need to understand that commercial scripts constructed to sell products and services are different than your average radio play or movie script, even if they rely on some of the same storytelling tactics to influence their audience. So what does an effective commercial voice over script consist of?
Writing an innovative commercial script requires you to approach your project from a creative angle. In fact, it wouldn’t hurt to imagine the story of your brand or product along the same lines as a gripping Hollywood narrative, or the emotional impact of your favorite book.
Since the dawn of time, humans have communicated with one another through stories, and it is believed that more than half of our daily conversations revolve around personal stories and gossip. If your ad can tell a mesmerizing story, then it will linger in your listeners’ minds for longer than if you simply were to state your product’s details. Research has shown that stories release chemicals in our brains that make what we’ve learned resonate deeper and longer.
So where can you find inspiration for your story?
Storytelling inspiration can come from anywhere. You can find it in your everyday life, based purely on your own thoughts and observations of the world around you. You can also actively seek it out by reading, browsing the web, conducting research, and meeting new people.
Writing a compelling character may be your voice over script’s starting point. If you have invented a new character with a distinct voice, then you can use that as a guiding light for the kind of story you want to tell. You may also decide to derive inspiration from common character roles written for voice talent, the most popular of which include: the Real Person, the Narrator, the Announcer, the Company Spokesperson, and the Educational Voice.
Having a grasp on the central roles that voice talent commonly embody is only half of the story when it comes to creating an effective script. It is just as important to understand the range of styles of sales pitches that are employed in commercial advertising contexts.
Getting the ‘sell’ right is absolutely key, and can mean the difference between alienating your customer and connecting with them in a meaningful way that will encourage them to engage with your brand and buy your product.
Here is a description of the three types of sells, commonly used in commercial scripts:
A hard sell is delivered with a sense of urgency. Using persuasive language, a hard sell demands both the listener’s undivided attention and their business, but whether they get it is another story. Hard selling is an aggressive technique that has the potential to intimidate listeners and can prove effective depending on the product or service being advertised.
Ultimately, you want to capture your audience with dynamic messaging, but you want to be careful not to harm the prospect of future sales.
A medium sell explicitly encourages a listener’s business while taking a less assertive approach than the hard sell. It certainly prompts the listener to buy, but remains casual enough to avoid coercing the listener into any extreme course of action.
This style of sales pitch ultimately draws on the best of both worlds of the soft sell and hard sell.
A soft sell hits its audience from an even more subtle angle than the medium sell. Although the soft sell is still suggestive, it doesn’t attempt to provoke the consumer or descend into a power play.
Soft selling practices are generally characterized by the way they are focused on cultivating a loyal customer base. While this type of sell may appear to involve a greater investment in time, it often results in creating long-term clients who place faith in the company and continue to come back for more.
A soft sell interacts with its audience just like a friend would, and may involve elements of storytelling and content that inspires.
There has been an ongoing debate surrounding the most effective approaches to the way your brand name is referenced in a commercial. For instance, is it better to cut to the chase and have your brand name be the first word listeners hear in your ad, or is it more effective to tell your story and express your message first, to leave your brand name as the finale? By the same token, does a brand name stick with an audience more, depending on the number of times it is spoken, or is it more effective to take a subtler approach and mention the brand just once?
Pandora Radio’s Insights Lab and Studio conducted an investigation into this very debate by creating an artificial brand, running a series of radio ads, and surveying listeners about the effectiveness of the ads they received.
Pandora Radio found that mentioning a brand name within the first three seconds of an ad generates more ad recall than by mentioning the name within the last few seconds.
Incidentally, they didn’t find that constantly name-dropping your brand makes much of a difference to the listener. As long as the amount of times your brand is mentioned remains consistent with your messaging and overall tone of that campaign, then it shouldn’t make a significant difference whether it is mentioned one or five times.
Along with finding that opening your commercial with a mention of your brand name is the most effective ad recall strategy, Pandora also discovered that ads that put listeners in a positive mood were seen to perform better. For example, having an upbeat, poppy music bed is more appealing to listeners than using no music bed at all. Don’t be afraid to go for good vibes.
On that same note, keep your music bed authentic to your brand. Through their study, Pandora learned tailoring your ad’s music bed so that it reflects on the listener’s favorite genre actually reduces ad recall.
For example, Pandora found that placing a country music backing track on an ad played for country music fans didn’t result in a better performance than its original pop version.
So, if you’ve decided to use a musical genre for your commercial, make sure that the music is consistent with your brand and your message for the best results.
Your ad’s script should roll easily off the tongue and be easily understood. Avoid corporate jargon or overly formal language that you wouldn’t hear in everyday conversation, out in public.
Write for the spoken word. The finished product of your voice over script isn’t intended to be read like a book, but be heard by listeners via spoken delivery. This is why it’s important to take a step back as you’re writing and read the commercial script aloud. Something that reads well on the page won’t necessarily sound great spoken aloud. Does your script sound natural, or is it a mouthful?
White space is your friend. Try not to write in run-on sentences and expansive, never-ending paragraphs. Split up the copy into multiple paragraphs in order to be sure your script is straightforward to read. This will aid enormously when the voice actor is following it as they record the script.
Defining your target audience is an integral step in the creative process behind creating an effective voice over script.
By identifying the main traits of your ideal consumer (age, location, income, values, lifestyle, and emotional sensibilities), then you’ll be able to modify your script to write in a way that appeals to that audience (whether that involves the way your voice actor speaks or the content of your script as a whole).
Having your target audience in mind when you write your commercial script involves the psychological theory of ‘mirroring’: both our verbal and nonverbal communication will naturally adapt to those around us.
If the artistic direction you provide suggests that the voice should sound articulate, calm, and professional, then your copy should reflect that by being comprised of short sentences, and easy-to-read paragraphs, as opposed to a script littered with exclamation points and run-on sentences.
It’s best to open your ad with the name of your brand, followed by a line or two that succinctly communicates what you’re selling and your brand’s specific message.
Here’s a solid model for a basic 30-second commercial script:
- 00-05 seconds: Capture the listener’s attention and mention your brand’s name (It takes your brain about 2 seconds to realize you’re listening to an ad).
- 05-15 seconds: Tell your story.
- 15-30 seconds: Provide snappy additional information to flesh out your product and/or promotion.
For example, here’s how this format plays out in this 30-second radio promo script for a fictional business called Benny’s Adventure Park, located in Boise:
“Come on Boise! Let’s go to Benny’s!”
“Benny’s Adventure Park is offering free lunch to our first five hundred and fifty-five visitors this Saturday. Hot dogs or hamburgers, chips and a soda, all included to celebrate our fifty-fifth anniversary!”
“Day passes are just fifteen dollars and family passes are only thirty-five dollars!”
“Benny’s Adventure Park. Boise’s place to play since 1964.”
At the end of the day, it is important to test different approaches on both sample audiences and within members of your team to see what actually works on listeners. What proves most effective for one brand or campaign may not be transferable to the other.
Remember that your script can be a living, breathing entity, and that, depending on who you cast or if you receive an audition that unexpectedly wows you and you end up living a different voice than you previously envisioned, your voice over script can and likely will change as your project works its way to fruition.
To get inspired, you can browse our catalogue of sample commercial voice over scripts!