If you are anything like me, you have spent most of your life avoiding commercials: turning down the volume, fast forwarding, leaving the room, or simply using your mental powers to block them out entirely. Welp, studying voice-over sure changed that! While I still find advertising and marketing to sometimes be morally questionable, even potentially harmful, I now find myself obsessed with commercials. I listen closely, notice patterns, analyze branding, and most importantly, determine which vocal performances land, and which fall flat.
Understandably, I have encountered some students with an all-too-familiar resistance to focusing on commercial work. I immediately empathize. But, no matter your feelings on commercials, advertising, marketing, or dun dun dun…MIND CONTROL…as part of your professional development as a voice actor, I highly recommend you study commercials.
Commercial copy, particularly traditional commercial copy, is written in a style which presents a huge challenge to an actor trying to deliver a “conversational” read. All the tools presented to you in the Such A Voice curriculum aim to help you meet this challenge head on. If you can find a way through script analysis, lead-in-lines, emphasis, and emotional expression to make a traditional commercial script sound conversational, think about how simply and joyfully you can make an audiobook or animation sound conversational!
Additionally, just as acting can be a very tough business, so can all of the arts, including writing. Advertising gives excellent writers a chance to earn a paycheck, and sometimes you can see that expertise and creativity reflected in a very well written commercial. Commercials can be miniature masterpieces taking an audience on a journey that a play or movie would, complete with exposition, rising action, a climax, a surprise twist, and a denouement. Not to mention evoking a genuine laugh, an effective tug at the heart strings, or shift of the mind. This phenomenon of well written masterpieces in 1 minute or less leads me to a phrase that all of my students have most certainly heard me say, “Treat everything like it’s Shakespeare.”
What I mean by this is respect the text: find out what the author is really trying to do, look clearly at all of the twists and turns, the comparisons, the witty turns of phrase. Look for a structure. Where does the author encourage movement and pace, where does the text need room to breathe a bit, and finally, how does the author want to emotionally affect the audience?
I’ve got good news. As a voice actor, your job is never to sell anything. Yes, your voice and performance might be used to sell something, but that’s not necessarily what will drive you to the booth in the morning. Personally, I never ask, “What am I selling here?” Instead I ask myself, “How do I want to make the audience feel?” I take my cues from the script: does the script want to make the audience feel valued? Is the objective to make them roll on the floor with laughter? Take a huge weight off their shoulders with an easy solution? Show them that there are folks out there doing good in the world? Make their life easier and more enjoyable? Tell them that everything is going to be OK? Making your audience think and feel is your job as an actor.
But what about doing commercials professionally?
First off, you are in control of your voice-over career. There is no reason you ever have to audition for anything you don’t want to do, including commercials. You can spend an entire career doing audiobooks, e-learning, documentary narration, explainer videos, animation, video games…the list goes on, without ever butting up against the concept of advertising. However, studying commercials will not just make you a better actor for all of the above genres, it will also give you a critical ear and eye as to how corporations advertise to us, how we communicate with each other, and what different audiences value and respond to. All very interesting, useful, and edifying information.
And if you do decide to work in commercials you can do so as a well-informed artist and consumer. And by the way, they pay very well.
Check out our free PDF with pro-tips from real working voice-over actors here!
Want to learn more about voiceover? Signup for our introductory VO webinar.