Tag Archives: Voice

David Beckham in his pants

Ok, the headline was just to grab your attention… but it worked ! (… and there is a link later, trust me!)

I had a bit of a pop at celebrity led advertising in my last post, enjoyable for me, but not especially illuminating for you all.

So I thought I would share a few views on how I think the use of a celebrity can enhance a brand or its advertising (or not). As always – let me know what you think if you get a spare moment by commenting on this post.


This really is a 50:50 call. Great voices do not necessarily make great voiceovers.

On the positive side, take David Thewlis and the NFU Mutual voiceovers. Delicious, a lovely rich timbre to his voice and his meter is perfect. No doubt expensive, he is after all a Hollywood star. The ad works better because he has a great voice, and in part because you recognise it.

Then take the Co-operative, Katherine Kelly voices their TV ads, she has a great voice, warm and engaging, but do you really know who she is? I would hesitate a guess that even if you do know who she is you may not recognise her voice. Her Barnsley accent is soft and engaging, a far cry from the character she played in Coronation Street or Mr Selfridge. So I would question the choice, even though a great voice is a the key thing in a voiceover, famous or not.

Do you need to use top end stars, unless they add that extra something?

Think also that Co-op used John Hannah extensively – a great and really distinctive voice, one much more recognisable and associated with the brand.

The fact that he now applies his talent to the Direct Line ads shows a distinctive voice is always going to be in demand, and the risk of too closely aligning your brand to a celebrity (voice or image).

The Apple Ad I showcased in my last post, the Crazy one’s used Richard Dreyfus to voice over. Lovely, but the Steve Jobs version on You Tube is arguably just as good and would a voiceover specialist be even better. A mimic or impersonator, if good, may run a brand risk of being ‘not authentic’ but could you really tell on your TV?

So where do I stand. Go to an extreme, who has a very distinctive voice?  Sean Connery, so what if you used him to voiceover your ad?  He does it well, but rarely, see below.

Will the listener or viewer really remember the content of the ad or the message? or, more likely will they remember Sean Connery. Having paid a reasonable fee, you need to get an effective ad, but how authentic is Sean Connery in this context? We know he is an actor with no connection with this firm.

They are using a great voice to get cut-through and that is all. Maybe it’s been a success, but I wouldn’t like to be writing the business case.

For a low-interest category though, it’s certainly a break-out tactic.

The Perfect marriage of visual to product to celebrity

This is a small tight category, I would contend, and is arguably the most obvious and successful place to be connecting product to celebrity. It includes perfumes, make-up, lingerie, hair products and the roll call is stunning… Supermodels, beautiful actresses… think Natalie Portman, Keira Knightly, Claudia Schiffer, Kate Moss and then add David Beckham, Beyoncé. (This is the pants bit everyone).

The aspiration to look and smell like our hero’s is a compelling reason to ‘marry’ a celeb to your product. It’s tried and tested and motivates through simple, direct, brand association.

Two gratuitous adverts for you to enjoy … David in his pants.

And the lovely Ms knightly in the 3.20s film used in cinema to promote Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel. The soundtrack helps immensely in this ad, but it is a nice piece of aspirational story telling and visualises the empowerment of women.

The icon approach

I could just have easily used Samuel L Jackson in the example on voiceovers instead of Sean Connery. The Barclay’s ad below is quite stunning, great art direction and filming. A great script too….but did it really help convey the message? I think not, I blame the random Unicorn personally, and the cost must have been huge, Samuel L Jackson is an A-lister after all.

Samuel has however completed an ad for Virgin Media that works much better, the same voice qualities and a quirky filmic approach work much more strongly, he is relevant to this category and this subject… much better value I would contend. A lingering doubt remains that he does advertise quite a few diverse things… a bit like a Hollywood Mylene Klass so will that confuse your target audience?

The same rationale works with this Bruce Willis ad for Sky … it’s relevant, and funny, pokes gentle fun at his celebrity and is helped by a great supporting cast, the young lady is perfectly cast, and what a great slo-mo ending, love it !

The funny stuff

A hard one to pull off. Churchill have a track record that works with Dawn French. She plays the funny lady to the straight man Churchill. A nice combination. It warms the brand, you feel safe and comfortable in their company, the pace and Britishness of the humor and the situations work to support this. Dawn French would surely never rip you off, I mean, she is a Vicar isn’t she?

Peter Kay grew his own fame and that of John Smiths with a series of great ads. a wonderful combination.. I like the ‘Wardrobe Monsters’ one best. These aired around 8 years ago now, so the quality on this compilation is not great, but it makes you feel really warm to the brand. It’s hard to find more examples that really work.. John Thompson has become something of a go to man for wry gentle humor, but the bigger comics are either not in demand or chose not to play.

A hard category in casting terms I would imagine and there is often a risk with Comedians!

The spokesperson

Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods for Nike are great examples where the association works really well. The credibility of the product is enhanced by the credibility of the spokesperson, however cheesy the ads may be.

It adds value to the consumer by association. The same as for beauty products, sports endorsement just works. The risk here is poor performance, if the star performs badly will that adversely affect brand perception?

Pepsi have tried consistently to add value with arguably equally strong brands… brand Michael Jackson and brand Britney Spears. Not so successful because the item has less connection with the celebrity .. sports goods = sports stars, and beauty = beautiful people, so naturally …  cola = singers?


Reflected glory

This is a variation of distinctiveness I referenced above in voiceovers. Santander are the best current example I can think of. Yes, I know that Jess Ennis-Hill and Rory McIlroy and Jenson Button will have current accounts, but that is not the point, it’s a reflected glow from World Champions that Santander are after. That is sort of ok, it’s a bit obvious, but I would imagine it works if the stars are as likable as Jess, Jenson and Rory.

So there you have it .. a few views, to summarise:

  1. Voice distinctiveness will get you cut-through but may be an expensive high risk strategy if you are relying on recognition. A great voice at the right price should be your priority.
  2. Logical association will help make the celebrity endorsement or appearance as it does in beauty and sports goods and success breeds success – see Nike
  3. Humour is a difficult one to pick off unless you cast someone everyone loves, like Peter Kay and Dawn French, and then use them to warm your brand and be authentic.
  4. Don’t try to use the celebrity as shorthand for the brand essence, that won’t work, you will confuse the consumer I would contend.
  5. If you are using an “icon”, make sure the use is true to who they are (or who they are famous for being), and sit back and bask in association – a good ploy is to use them in the way Sky use Bruce Willis rather than having them speak directly to consumers. If they are actors, your consumers may think they are acting… or that they are doing it for the money, either way it damages credibility
  6. If you just want cut-through, then that’s ok, but don’t try and manufacture linkages where none exist

I tried to think of a category to cover the More than Freeman ads… they are just so (good and) unusual that they are best just thought of as unique.. enjoy… (oh and the clever bit .. it is the voice of Josh Robert Thompson an impressionist from the North East … who needs Celebrities)?

See you next Time

23 May 2014

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Insurance TV Advertising – a different approach

Thanks for all of comments on last weeks blog;  the NFU Mutual ad and the voiceover certainly attracted some interest.  The consensus of opinion is that it is beautifully voiced by David Thewlis.  It’s a great ad, doing a good job of reinforcing the NFU Mutual brand values, and I would guess widening their appeal.  The quote below (from NFU) sums up the ad and their values nicely:

NFU Mutual values are what set us apart – we believe in Trust, Customer Focus, Value for Money, Quality, Prudence

My sense is that they need to make a call over the consistency of messaging though … the website has a mixture of old brand statements alongside new ones.  I appreciate the new ad is a campaign and integration is costly, but I think the website weakens the impact and feel generated by the TV ad once you are off the home page.

Interestingly another ‘Insurance Brand’ – Hastings Direct – is back on TV in March ’13.  The contrast could not be more stark;  when I saw the first ad in this series I recognised a strong insight (after all the reason we have insurance is to protect the things we treasure and the real moment of truth comes when a claim has to be made).  So creatively the no fuss, “we clean it up” message comes across.  The attempt at humour at the end looks dangerously like an in joke for the marketing team though.  But I really did not like the advert at all.

But, being fair-minded, I thought I would check it out again and I found a second ad in the series that is much more interesting;

This ad is much stronger and plays out a message that is very important in building empathy with customers.  Like the first ad it is squarely aimed at a direct response audience and you can see what Hastings are trying to do:

  • Introduce the saving you can make by switching to Hastings
  • To build credibility for differing audiences by showing the typical savings for 51%, 25% and 10% of people
  • To show themselves as true consumer champions by showing all three and implying that Insurers that do not are not doing the right thing – the voiceover is strong here
  • They almost show a choice of prices, I appreciate this is not actually the case, but it leans towards talking to an audience very used to seeing more than one price on the price comparison websites – this aspect, intentional or not is quite clever
  • The call to action is typically Hastings and they are yet again going for a little humour, arguably more successfully than in the first ad I saw.

The art direction is interesting too – I like the stillness in the end frames and I like that the statue of ‘Harry Hastings’ is not animated.  It covers off the usual, annoying, insurance tendency towards cuddly creatures, but I will let that pass.  The insight resonates with me 100% – from my own experience I know consumers see Insurance and Insurers as a ‘necessary evil’ and they are fed up with rising prices at renewal, it’s no wonder they shop around.

So what values are Hastings trying to fit to with this, in their words, “refreshingly straightforward” campaign?

Hastings say they want to be easy to talk to, know their stuff, be open and honest and believe in good old-fashioned customer service.  Not perhaps as grandiose as NFU Mutual, but this will resonate with a target audience seeking to respond to price based messaging I think. The ads do a good job of measuring up to this ambition in my view.   The ad, in direct response airtime, does look a little different (but only a little) and it does benefit from a memorable phone number.

The ads are simple and the business seems to be growing… time will tell if this campaign helps, but I think that Antidote, the creative agency who developed the ad, have crafted one strongish ad and another that misses the mark a little by comparison, but, each, with minimal legal copy, are clean and bright.  It’ll be interesting to see how long they air as that is usually the litmus test of direct response TV success or failure.

Comments, as always, greatly appreciated


17 March 2013

Useful Links:

Campaign Live article

Antidote website   Love your home page by the way guys !

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Voiceovers ‘maketh’ the advert

Last week in my Marketing team was all about voices.  I work in Insurance as you may know, and part of my day job is to keep abreast of what our competitors are up to.  One of them, NFU Mutual. has just launched a new TV advertisement and as I am in the early stages of developing new ads for my brand it is of particular interest.

The NFU mutual ad is very different to many Insurance ads;

  • It’s not loud and shouty
  • it doesn’t have images of houses or cars in it
  • there are no dancing ferrets or woodland creatures on show to carry us along
  • And, finally, it has no price saving messages or NCD claims

In short it’s a beautifully filmed ad that relies massively on you engaging with the narrator.  Irritatingly I cannot pin down the voice at present – I think it may be Rhys Ifans (let me know if you have a better thought).  It is a rare (for advertising) adult to adult conversation.  The execution by Grey is impeccable.  Grey – London

It is similar in approach to a recent Hiscox advertisement for Insurance, and a comparison of the two points to the voiceover as a decisive difference.

There is character in the NFU Mutual ad, and the voiceover engages me right away.   The ad is called “It’s about time”  and whilst this is only used as end phrase, the use of the variant: “It’s about taking the time” works well with the measured pitch and self-deprecating tone. A brand that can poke gentle fun at itself like this shows itself as endearing and warm – a brand you can trust in fact.

Benedict Cumberbatch voices the Hiscox ad and for me its only at the end they get the value of the reassuring timbre his voice can give, it feels a little too dark and sombre – check out the skies and dimly lit interiors for example.  This gives the ad a seriousness and tone clearly desired by the Agency and client, but for me its a little too cold, despite the voiceover bringing it back a little at the end – does it live up to the ads title I wonder?

The voiceover artist in essence becomes, by default and ubiquity, the most important spokesperson for the brand – even more than the contact centre operators, branch staff and field agents etc.

The voice and brand become inextricably linked.  When the two are in harmony; then 2+2 =5 or more.  Just think about the Dave Lamb voiceovers in Come Dine with Me, or Big Brother without the soothing Geordie accent of Marcus Bentley.  The programmes would lack that instant recognition and extra ‘something’ that makes them work better/harder for the viewer.

There are echo’s all around financial services advertising at present of brands trying to build empathy through trust to increase active engagement with, and selection of, the brand and its offers.  Yorkshire Building Society is doing nice TV work in this area and the Northern tones/accent of the voiceover artist compliment the script and imagery very well in my view.

But what is my benchmark, in advertising at least?

The two voiceovers that stick in my mind which add significantly to the advertisements they are a part of, and which work harder by being well cast are:

The O2 ads voiced by Sean Bean – he simply has a, great, rich voice that is genuine, not actorly or preachy, it could easily be your pal talking about the great deal on top-ups – genius casting in my view.

But the real benchmark for truly making an ad has to be the early ‘dine in’ M&S ads with Dervla Kirwan … not just any voice-over, an M&S Voiceover! (Sorry I couldn’t resist that!)

I will post our ads when they are ready, but in the meantime .. I hope you enjoy these ads and my observations .. Let me know which ads you think have great voiceovers if you get a moment – its a neglected field I think.

2 March 2013

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