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Why Hire A-List Actors for Faceless Voiceover Work?
By: Edwina Owens Elliott
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You’re kicking back watching your favorite program on television when a commercial comes on. It’s for Honda. Or Budweiser. Maybe Visa. Tuning it out, you check your phone for text messages or tap your iPad awake for a quick peek when suddenly your ears, on their own, zoom back in on the TV ad. That voice. It’s someone you know. Maybe someone you’ve heard for years and years. But…you just can’t put your finger on it. Who IS that?
It could be George Clooney. Or Morgan Freeman. Maybe it’s Lauren Bacall. Or Wanda Sykes. It’s a well-known movie actor or performer with a voice that some might recognize. Morgan Freeman smoothly presides over the Visa spots. And most people know Sam Elliott’s rumbling baritone for Ford Trucks. But in the faceless world of voiceover work, who knew that it was Jeff Bridges behind the Duracell ads? Or Allison Janney motivating you for Kaiser Permanente? And did you know that actor Jon Hamm is the voice for Mercedes-Benz?
Here’s my question. Does it matter that a big-name celebrity voices a product spot? Instead of awarding the job to the professional voice actor for three, four, or five thousand bucks, an advertiser spends hundreds of thousands, if not millions, for a hot actor who rakes in millions already. Why? Does Jon Hamm’s fine but indistinctive voice move more Mercedes-Benz out of the showroom and onto the streets than a voiceover pro without a hit TV show?
There was a time when it was beneath an actor to voice an ad. Considered slumming, it signaled to the industry that your career was on the skids. And although Gene Hackman, Lauren Bacall, Jack Lemmon and, of course, James Earl Jones all did it, most actors wouldn’t touch a voiceover job. But today everybody’s doing it. And it’s the true voice actor who does it for a living and not just a lark that’s getting pushed out.
Spending millions to bring in an A-list actor to voice your ad is all about the ego-stroke. For who? The advertiser, of course. More often than not, the viewer is none the wiser. Remember the Nissan Leaf ad from a while back? The 30-second spot consisted of a polar bear traveling from an iceberg in Antarctica to a city where, wandering into the driveway of a Nissan Leaf owner just as he’s about to enter his car, the man is startled at first to see the eight-foot beast but ends up giving it a (ha-ha) “bear hug.” It’s all tinkling piano and heartfelt imagery until the very end when we hear—“Introducing the 100% electric Nissan Leaf. Innovation for the planet. Innovation for all.” Did you recognize the voice? It was IRONMAN. Robert Downey, Jr. He spoke all of thirteen words. You never saw his face. There was no caption revealing his identity. So what, pray tell, was the point? And just how fat do you think was that paycheck?

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About the Author

Edwina Owens Elliott is a graphic designer, art director, illustrator and owner of FASHION+ART, an e-commerce art gallery. She has a lifelong passion for fashion, art, writing, music, movies, books, theater, cooking, gardening, plotting and planning and dreaming big dreams. Find her online here and here.

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