I recently found myself immersed in a creative conversation, having a healthy debate over voice-over (VO) casting for a project. The discussion was around whether we should cast a male or female talent, but not exactly for the reasons you might expect. It wasn’t necessarily about the stereotypes associated with the two genders but rather literally who we believed would be most compelling in telling the story. Fortunately, this is the creative circle that I hang in but I’m not naïve enough to think that this is always the case for all marketers and advertisers.
When selling cleaning products, fashion/retail, even diapers, women are the VO deliverers. For a multi-stacked bacon cheeseburger or ice-cold beer, men still tend to dominate.
But we’re seeing a blurring of these expected roles and clear stereotypes.
As culture, society, business and household roles are transforming, so are communications and consumer expectations. It’s now understood that women are much more involved, if not making the big domestic decisions around cars, financial planning and home buying. Gone are the days when a woman’s household responsibility was limited to cooking, cleaning and childcare. Now she’s doing all of that while managing a job and maybe even attending school.
We are now exposed to and inspired by women CEOs, changemakers, athletes, politicians, artists, educators, engineers, journalists, soldiers, astronauts—you get the picture. Women are no longer accepting gender as a barrier but rather tapping into it as a superpower.
In pulling together some thoughts for this piece, I conducted a quick audit of VOs across three commercial pods. It was during a gender-neutral program where the spots were a mixed bag of goods, including pharma, auto, beauty, pets, banking and QSR. My rough estimate showed that 85–90 percent of the VO was done by a female across categories, messaging and content.
This reinforced my hypothesis that not only are women much more influential than given credit for, but they also have more power and control of the wallet.
A female voice has historically been associated with being more friendly, kinder, softer, less authoritative or professional, but a shift has appeared where she now has a voice that is heard as honest, reliable, authentic, intelligent, well-informed and empathetic. She now has permission to talk about sports, finances, travel, connected devices and, heck, even beer.
A great example of a memorable female voice casting is Allison Janney for Kaiser Permanente, who was integral to launching the 2004 “Thrive” campaign, which revived the struggling HMO brand. They did a brilliant job identifying the direction they wanted to take their brand and found an approachable, smart, inviting, confidence-inducing voice to rebrand themselves.
Spectrum TV and mobile also aligned with a bright and human personality when they launched “Think Forward” in mid-2018 using the voice of Ellen DeGeneres. Traditionally, this space of fiber-powered networks and satellites was a world and language that only men could explain and understand. Spectrum clearly made a strategic branding decision to have a familiar, non-intimidating voice, adding a dash of levity to do some heavy lifting and introducing the audience to an advanced, faster and more connected offering. Ellen’s mass popularity, cultural relevance and social following is undeniable, which is confirmed by her fans who quickly responded online with a gamification mentality, quickly guessing that Ellen was the voice behind the campaign and generating earned media and buzz.
No doubt that the role of the female VO has changed drastically in the last few decades, consistent with her role in the world. I would argue that she not only has caught up in this arena but she’s probably experiencing more demand and success than her male counterparts.
My belief is still that it’s not necessarily about the gender per se but rather the quality, characteristics and delivery of the voice and how it complements, authenticates and enriches the creative. It might even be best told by a confident female, a gentle male, a precocious child or even an energetic dog (OK, most likely not by a dog).