Do you know the secret to a successful television spot?
To tell the truth, I don’t. I don’t think there’s any one deciding factor. Instead, there are several factors at play. These include, but are not limited to: being based on a powerful consumer insight, a meticulously written script and flawless production.
But there’s one thing I’m certain of.
If you don’t use a professional voice over artist, your ad will be a flop. Just think about it: you’ve spent a lot of money to broadcast your TV spot nationwide (whether in your country or abroad). You’ve hired top professionals (including yours truly) to guarantee razor-sharp lines and a good film. So why ruin it all by using an amateur voice ‘talent’?
That’s what I’m discussing in this post with Italian pro voice talent Enrico Vaioli, and member of ADAP – the Italian Association of Advertising Dubbing Actors.
We’re singing from the same hymn sheet:
“Voice over is, to date, one of the most overlooked and undervalued elements of a production project. Often, international clients who don’t speak our language [Italian] or inexperienced Italian clients think it’s just a case of reading a written text. But a good voice over actually elevates the entire production. This is precisely why we need professional voice talents who, with tiny variations in intonation or stress, manage to captivate television viewers and, as a consequence, get them excited about a particular product.”
Professional speaker: a definition
In my opinion, a pleasant voice, a lack of regional quirks and knowing Italian pronunciation rules inside out are the bare minimum you need to become an Italian-language voice over artist. If a voice talent lacks just one of these requisites, then I’d advise you not to hire them, because the end result will be poor.
But you need much more than the “bare minimum” to produce an incredible voice over. In particular, you need to know how to use your voice with purpose and have excellent acting skills. These two must-haves allow you to deliver the same line in many different ways while simultaneously hitting the brief. As a copywriter who produces scripts (I write them from scratch in Italian and also transcreate them from English or German into Italian), I would expect voice talents to bring my words to life. I’d expect them to use their voice to its fullest potential to convey the emotions I had in mind when I wrote the script.
These are some of the factors I consider when I supervise a voice casting.
But, as Enrico explains, there’s another essential factor which is just as important:
“You also need to have an excellent audio recording equipment, an investment of tens of thousands of euros, and you need to know how to use it. Modern technology means we can now connect with clients and production studios all over the world in real-time, without time delay. But you also need to invest in tools which are good enough to create recordings that are fit for broadcast, avoid wasting time and maximise everyone’s profit. So it’s always good if a client finds out in advance from the voice talent or the studio which tools will be used. Impartial advice: trust a professional studio which has operated in the voice production field for years or work directly with a professional voice talent who has a home studio equipped with the latest technology.”
A professional voice talent in action: Enrico Vaioli
In this television spot, which is well-known in Italy, a father decides to use the Vinted app to buy second-hand clothes for Sofia, his fourth daughter, who refuses to wear her big sisters’ hand-me-downs. Drumroll, please: I wrote the Italian script and Enrico Vaioli provided the voice over.
In addition to his wonderful timbre, perfect enunciation and flawless pronunciation, Enrico interpreted the script brilliantly, alternating warmer, reassuring intonations with lighter, more ironic ones, as required by the various scenes. As he so rightly notes:
“You really need to know how to pronounce Italian perfectly and remove any kind of regional intonation and/or quirks from your speech. But the most important thing is knowing how to act! Of course, this is something that comes naturally to many voice actors, and they will have refined and developed this skill for many years in the studio and the recording booth. In short, talent matters, but, just like everything else, it’s not enough.”
The role of direction: copywriter as voice over director
A word of warning: when I wrote about “bare minimum”, I wasn’t just referring to the voice talent. In my opinion, someone who writes voice over scripts for television spots should also possess proven skills in voice over direction. Or dubbing direction if the script was transcreated instead of created from scratch. If the person who writes or adapts a spoken script does not know the rules of Italian pronunciation, doesn’t have the “ear” to recognise when a line is “off”, can’t recognise the different shades of meaning that different intonations give, or can’t give feedback, then in my opinion they are only doing half the job. Sorry not sorry to my copywriting colleagues who don’t have those skills (which obviously can’t be acquired overnight: read about my experience in this blogpost).
For this reason, I much prefer it if I can attend the voice over recording sessions for the spots which I write or adapt. For the Vinted ad, I connected with Enrico over videoconference and supervised the recording session, giving him tips on how to successfully interpret the script. Of course, by “successfully” I mean interpreting the script in a way that matched my personal preference as a voice over director. A script could be acted out in different ways and still meet the brief. There was one line in the script which I really wanted Enrico to say in an ironic way and —are I say it — a bit of a nervous chuckle. This nuance wasn’t obvious, but a creative interpretation of my script which I really felt would take the voice over to the next level. But that’s my own personal opinion and I’m aware that other takes (i.e. recordings) would have worked just as well.
A professional like Enrico Vaioli would have done an excellent job, whether I was there or not! But when voice talents and voice over directors are able to work together, this can only be good news for the quality of the recording. Interaction and collaboration bring out the best. But it goes without saying that this only happens when the voice talent and voice over directors are pros!
Enrico and I both agree on another point:
“There is a key benefit to recording live with clients (remotely or from a studio), agencies, creatives and session directors: immediate feedback. This makes it easier for the voice talent to pinpoint the perfect intonation out of all the different possible interpretations, and the client — and others in the session — will be able to say what they think in real time. In addition, by working with a professional director, the voice talent can discover new and different sources of inspiration for the same script. An idea or suggestion from the director in attendance can add something extra to the work, perhaps add a pause, a stress, a completely different nuance compared to the versions that the voice talent had in mind.”
So to return to my original question: I don’t know the secret to a successful television spot. But I do know that when it comes to spots with voice overs, if it’s based on a powerful consumer insight, has a meticulously written script, is produced impeccably and involves professional voice talents (perhaps members of ADAP like Enrico Vaioli) and a professional copywriter who knows how to direct voice talent during the recording session (perhaps like me)… Then there’s every possibility that your advertising investment will deliver the results you want. When you’re ready, let’s talk.