The Death of Conversational Reads

Jimmy Slonina Voice Leave a Comment

Alas Poor Voice Actor

I’m continuing some awesome VO coaching with the great David Rosenthal of the Global Voice Acting Academy. He’s been tireless in his efforts to help me train my ear so that I can self-direct on future auditions. (He can’t hold my hand forever!) Self-direction was addressed in my previous post, and I’m on the road to acquiring those tools.

The newest trend in VO, as anyone in the business will probably tell you, is a desire for “conversational” reads. Gone are the days of radio disc jockey inflections and boomy, announcer-y reads. Consumers tune out if they’re shouted at or have a hard sell pushed upon them. Now a commercial VO talent needs to employ a guy/girl-next-door character — a friend “suggesting” you try this product or that service, rather than a salesmen giving an enthusiastic pitch.

But even with a more subdued take on these scripts, it makes sense that SOME level of character needs to come through. You need to hook the listener in the first 1.5 seconds, or you’ve lost them for good. And one would assume the conversational tone should still have a bit of liveliness and an appropriate variance in cadence.

Part of my homework is watching, nay, listening to a bunch of commercials, from all sorts of genres, channels, and media outlets. I’ve jotted down several that sounded like something I could see myself working on, found them on YouTube, and transcribed them. Of course, it’s hard getting the actual actor’s voice out of my head, but I would pretty much practice the copy the way they did it — trying to get into my bones the style and trends of reads in today’s commercial environment.

But something that I’ve been finding in my commercial accumulation is quite a large number of reads that are SO subdued that they go pass the point of conversational and sound almost dead. Barely any hint of character or intention or emotion. It’s even more than just a shrug-off delivery, it’s non-delivery.

Take this Geico ad. While this may be on the more enthusiastic side of a dead read — there’s actually a little bit of nuance here — it’s still toned WAY down.

This seems to be a recurring style for Geico ads. Think of the tag, “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance.” It’s delivered with an incredible amount of nonchalance.

William H. Macy provides the voice for several recent Turbo Tax ads. While celebrities providing voices for ads may come with its own set of rules and style liberties, it does speak to the trend that they have such a subtle sounding actor for this kind of ad. It’s actually a pretty interesting counterpoint to the visuals we’re looking at.

“It’s amazing what you’re capable of.” What’s ‘amazing’ to me how dry that line is read! It goes against my instincts and against what I’ve been trying to accomplish in my trainings. I wonder what the creatives were thinking when they were putting this ad together, or what the recording session was like. “Okay, that was good, Bill. Can you bring it down a little bit…? Even more… Just bring it WAY down.”

And Ron Howard is the voice for this Gold Peak Tea ad. Both of these guys are unseemly choices to sell products with their voices.

But rather thinking about it in terms of making the wrong casting choices or giving poor direction, I’m thinking the trend could be going from “conversational read” or “soft sell” to “dead read” or “no sell”. It’s certainly not how I’m going to drive my learning in this field, but it’s definitely good to follow possible movements like this in this business.

Do you think these ads are effective in terms of the voice over? Are conversational reads already becoming too passe? Will that goat in the Geico ad ever learn? Give me what you got in the comments!

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