Why celebrity and pro voices are so appealing in commercials

Another Super Bowl has come and gone, along with the now-mandatory contingent of celebrity-laden commercials. Though this year most of them were on-camera, with the slightest amount of poking around it’s easy to turn up long lists of celebrities who have lent only their voices to commercials, too.

Why do big companies invest in big names when those famous faces won’t be on camera? What’s so compelling about the sound of Jeff Bridges, Juliana Margulies, George Clooney, or Queen Latifah that it catches our attention, even when the actors themselves are invisible?

Granted, some people have a voice nearly as famous as their face (I’m looking at you, James Earl Jones), but setting voice-recognition aside, there are a few characteristics you can expect from a seasoned pro that consistently draw a consumer in.

Confidence

Experience breeds confidence, and that self-assurance comes through loud and clear. No questioning tones, no shouting, no strain or self-doubt. They are telling you how it is. The end. Close your eyes and listen to Julia Roberts say “We put members first” at 0:20. You believe her, don’t you?

Pacing

Ads need to fit into a pretty tight time box. But if every word is spaced evenly or rushed, the script sounds stilted, fake, or irritating – and sometimes all three. Actors harness the power of the pause, and know when to hustle through a line or linger on an adjective. In this Esurance ad, see if you can catch where John Krasinski nabs your attention with a slow lead, hustles up to the company name and features, and eases into a comforting “problem solved” saunter.

Emotion

Actors honor and/or create the story behind the copy, and make sure that it comes to life with the appropriate smile, smirk, growl, or wink. There’s never a sense that a product or message is beneath them. On the contrary, they feel the impact of every word. While a clear example would be Oprah Winfrey’s beautiful “Whole Again” delivery (especially around 0:55):

For a comparison, check out all of Lisa Kudrow’s “likes” for the much less emotionally-charged ad for Yoplait.

Now, as attention-getting as a famous voice can be, not every budget can absorb the cost of an A-lister. But by using a non-celebrity voice actor who has the ability to bring these three attributes into the booth (and there are plenty of them out there), a video can be memorable and impactful with a much more modest price tag.

Kendra Hoffman Kendra Hoffman (12 Posts)

Kendra Hoffman renounced her engineering ways to become a voice actor specializing in making copy sound smart. Her studio is based in Minneapolis, though she's been heard around the world. Her geek cred is substantial.