Voiceover in Advertising: How to Capitalize on This $3b Industry

WellSaid Labs - Voiceover in Advertising

According to Statista, advertisers spent more than $3 billion on digital audio advertising in the U.S. in 2020. That’s a number that’s been consistently on the rise for the past several years. One major reason is audio advertising continues to evolve across new formats, platforms, and voices. In fact, the digital audio advertising space is anticipated to grow by more than 23.5% in 2021 alone.

Some studies show that audio advertisements may be even more effective than traditional advertising, with voiceovers scoring higher on markers like credibility, relevance, and persuasion.

In this article, we take a closer look at voiceovers in commercial advertising. Let’s review how to create them, where to use them, and some of the top benefits and challenges. We will also find ways to make the most of this innovative—and in many ways, untapped—industry.

Benefits of voiceovers in advertising

Below are just a few of the benefits of voiceover in advertising.

Stronger recall

Voiceover has been shown to be even more effective for recall than television or video advertisements. A study by Pandora found that audio advertisements inserted between songs in personal music playlists impacted long-term memory 36% better than television advertisements and 29% better than mobile video advertisements.

More effective than visuals alone

An advertiser tested two versions of an advertisement, both containing an ending with the message “developed with experts”. In the first version, the message was only visual. In the second version, the visual message was complemented by a voiceover as well. The ending without voiceover resonated with 17 percent of the audience. The version with voiceover resonated with 44 percent of the audience. While this may not be the case for every advertisement, never underestimate the power of the right voiceover for your advertising.

Help articulate brand ethos

Picture some of the world’s most famous brands. You might be able to instantly recall the voices associated with them. For example, Visa paid Morgan Freeman between $1 and $2 million to be its voice, conveying a calm, trustworthy disposition. 

Whereas, Budweiser featured George Clooney when it was looking for a classic voice to promote its all-American beer. 

Nationwide chose Julia Roberts. Senior VP of Brand Marketing Jennifer Hanley explained, “Julia Roberts’ voice brings an assuring, confident tone to the campaign that resonates well with our target audience.”

While you don’t have to choose a celebrity as your voiceover, these brands understand the way a voice can become your brand. With voice, you can bring to life something that’s hard to describe with words alone. It can convey a brand’s voice, tone, and ethos.

Where to use voiceovers in advertising

With the digital age, the options for voiceovers in advertising are ever-increasing. Below are a few of the most popular places where companies use voiceover to advertise.

Podcasts 

Podcast advertising is growing exponentially, from $479 million in 2018, to an estimated $1 billion by the end of 2021. The Interactive Advertising Bureau predicts that podcasting revenue will double to $2 billion by the end of 2023. Advertisers use voiceovers for in-show podcast advertisements inserted into the beginning, middle, or end of a podcast episode. These voiceovers appear on platforms like iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, Buzzsprout, Podbean, SoundCloud, and more.

Music-streaming sites

Most of the top music-streaming sites insert advertisements between every couple of songs unless consumers pay to opt-out of ads. Spotify, for example, has 356 million monthly active users. Only about half of that number (158 million users) are paying subscribers. That means that advertisers have millions of people listening to Spotify with advertisements. This makes it a massive opportunity to insert advertisements with voiceovers. Other popular music-streaming sites besides Spotify are Pandora and Apple Music.

Radio (internet and traditional)

While traditional radio has long been popular with advertisers, internet radio still has a strong hold with more than 34 million Sirius XM users and 128 million iHeart Radio users. Voiceover advertisements can be inserted into internet radio the same way they are on traditional radio or music-streaming platforms. They are typically between songs as 15, 30, 45- or 60-second commercials. Other popular internet radio sites include NTS Radio, Worldwide FM, and Dublab.

Television

Today’s consumers don’t only watch television on their TVs, but also on their mobile devices and laptop computers. Television advertisements range from traditional cable channels to programmatic and over-the-top (OTT) advertisements on Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+.

Video

Another platform where consumers and advertisers spend time and money (and lots of it) is YouTube. Incredibly, it has more than two billion logged-in monthly users. An impressive 74 percent of adults in the U.S. use YouTube. Advertisers spend roughly one cent to three cents per view, with top advertisers spending more than $200 million per year to advertise. 

Home devices

An up-and-coming area where advertising voiceovers shine is on audio ads on Amazon Alexa and Google Home. Advertisers have to get creative with advertising on these channels. Currently, the main ways to advertise include advertising or sponsoring on an Alexa Skill, Alexa Flash Briefing, or Google Assistant Action.

Audio blog posts

Another area on the rise for advertising is audio blog posts. On audio blog posts, you can embed your company’s own audio ads within your blog posts for consumers who prefer to listen to blog posts instead of reading them (or both).

Types of voiceovers in advertising

When it comes to voiceovers in advertising, there are three main forms to be aware of.

Voice actors

Historically, companies would hire voice actors for their voiceovers. Voice actors are professionals who specialize in reading aloud to generate voiceovers for commercials, corporate content, and other projects. Typically, voice actors create such voiceovers in a recording studio where the sound, technology, and acoustics are optimal. Some voice actors specialize in a specific voice, style, or tone. Other voice actors can vary their voice according to the needs of their clients.

The benefits of voice actors are that they are professionals at what they do. Most can skillfully vary their pace, add inflections, and create quality voiceovers. 

However, some companies do not have the resources to hire a voice actor, whether it comes down to their budget or bandwidth in coordinating logistics. And in that case, there are a few other options.

Internal employees

Some companies opt to use their own internal employees instead of coordinating with a voice actor or voiceover agency. This route also has its own positives and negatives.

On the positive side, working with an internal employee is often less expensive than working with a voiceover studio, agency, or professional. While you do have to coordinate with the employee’s schedule, you have slightly more ownership of when things are recorded and how quickly retakes can be created.

However, on the flip side, you have to work with an employee who already has a full workload of other responsibilities, so it’s not always easier to squeeze things into their schedule. The employee is also not a professional voice actor, so they aren’t trained in pace, inflections, and tone—which could result in a lower quality voiceover. 

Additionally, unless your company already has a recording studio, sound equipment, and editing technology, you could have to bake it into additional costs. Relying on internal employees can seem like a more budget-friendly, efficient option at the outset, but turn into an expensive, less efficient headache along the way.

Text-to-speech voiceovers

An innovative new option—if we do *say* so ourselves—is text-to-speech, or voiceover through artificial intelligence (AI). This might sound sci-fi, but text-to-speech is quickly becoming one of the most budget-friendly, efficient, and streamlined ways to render natural-sounding voiceovers.

On the plus side, text-to-speech is wildly efficient. You can simply select the voice online that’s right for your project, upload your script, and render your voiceover. Within minutes, you can listen to the voiceover, make any required edits, and cut a final version.

Not only is this much faster than traditional or in-house routes, but it’s much more cost-effective. For a 30-second voiceover, working with a voice actor can cost $999, while an internal employee can cost $450 once you factor in employee time. A text-to-speech voiceover like WellSaid Labs would cost less than $10 for that same 30-second voiceover.

Beyond those benefits, the most important consideration when using text-to-speech is how human it sounds. After all, it doesn’t do you much good to save time and money but end up with a voiceover that sounds like a robot. Most people are surprised to learn that WellSaid Labs voiceovers, for example, are ranked to sound equally as human as an actual human voice. Listeners simply can’t tell the difference between WellSaid Labs Voice Avatars and a human voice.

RELATED: Guide to Voiceover Script Success

Styles of voiceovers in advertising

When creating your advertising voiceovers, not just any voice will do. Regardless of whether you have other visuals accompanying your voiceover, voiceovers play an important role in selling your product or service. 

A study revealed that an advertisement promoting a new biscuit in China performed poorly with an original test audience, registering positively with just 34 of respondents—well below the target of at least 55 percent. However, when the voiceover was tweaked multiple times based on respondent feedback, positive feedback grew to 53 percent, then 61 percent, and eventually 80 percent upon the final iteration. This led to a successful launch of the product, all thanks to the right style of voiceover.

Below are a few of the most popular types of voiceovers in advertising.

Hard sell

A hard sell is a more forceful, animated, enthusiastic delivery that shares lots of information in a short amount of time. The voiceover and accompanying script tend to be plainly sales-oriented, diving right into the sales pitch. Imagine sports events, car commercials, or Black Friday deals.

Soft sell

A soft sell is often more conversational than a hard sell—wooing the listener versus diving straight into a sales pitch. A soft sell tends to come across as less rushed, painting a vision for the listener of life with a product or service, versus as directly selling the product itself.

Conversational

Somewhere between a hard sell and a soft sell, a conversational voice can help listeners feel more at ease while positioning a brand as more trustworthy. Because many consumers listen to podcasts or music-streaming sites in a relaxed setting (while walking, working, or commuting) a hard sell can sometimes come across as jarring, while a conversational tone can feel less intrusive, more welcome experience for listeners. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong—it depends on your brand, audience, and advertising goals.

Testimonial

Social proof is one of the most powerful forms of advertising. Studies show that 88% of consumers trust user reviews as much as personal recommendations. For this reason, testimonials can be another effective form of voiceover advertising. Testimonials usually speak in first person with a customer (or a voiceover) describing a transformation in their words. 

Recreated with WellSaid voices, inspired by this ad by Grammarly.

Other factors to consider when choosing voiceovers

When considering the delivery style of your voiceovers, also consider nuances like gender, age, and location. While one gender or age group isn’t better than another, they can contribute to the overall feeling of your advertisement. 

Consider the following factors when choosing the voice that’s right for you.

Brand voice

The first factor to consider is your brand voice. You may already describe your brand voice in your brand’s style guide, but if not, consider a few words that convey your brand. Is it sophisticated, luxe, and timeless? Or, is it youthful, fun, and playful? Starbucks considers its voice to be functional and expressive, while Uber describes its voice as considerate, simple, bold, and consistent. Your brand voice can serve as the starting place for describing how you want not only your brand—but your voiceover—to come across.

Context

The second factor to consider is the context of your advertisement. For example, if you’re selling luxury watches, a hard sell might not be the right voiceover for your audience. Instead, you might want to emulate the quality, sophistication, and timelessness of your watches—enticing your buyer versus accosting them with over-active vocal expressions. 

Whereas, if you’re advertising a warehouse close-out sale, an enthusiastic, attention-grabbing hard sell might be the perfect fit. The context of your advertisement, plus your brand voice, informs which style of voiceover is right for you.

Audience

Similarly, your audience plays an important role in how to choose your voiceover. For example, if you’re advertising to radio listeners, you need a voiceover that speaks at a pace suitable for listeners without visual aids. In that case, you may want to slow your messaging while being careful to avoid pauses that can be interpreted as dead air. Whereas, if your audience consists of young adults watching gaming videos on YouTube, you may only have a few seconds to capture their attention before they skip through your advertisement. In that case, a faster-paced, attention-grabbing voice might be your best solution.

Cultural challenges of voiceovers in advertising

Speaking of location, one of the biggest challenges with voiceovers is adapting to cultural nuances across regions. Many large companies have complex advertising campaigns spanning countries all over the world. Be intentional about the following complexities when it comes to voiceovers and advertising across cultures.

Colloquialisms and slang

One of the first things to remember is that different cultures have different expressions, and they won’t all translate well. As a fun example, in America, you might say, “He’s got a screw loose.” Whereas, in Australia, you would say, “He’s got a kangaroo loose in the top paddock.” While this is a light-hearted illustration, some of these translations can be much more serious and actually come across as insensitive or insulting if you botch them. 

Fortunately, most of these sayings are things that you can catch in your script before a voiceover ever comes into the picture. When possible, work with a local translator, do your own research, or avoid colloquialisms altogether to be safe.

Accommodating dozens of cultural variations in scripts

When deploying advertisements across multiple regions, you might have to make dozens (or hundreds) of minor changes to accommodate cultural variations. Imagine the challenge that would be when working with a single voice actor who has to personally re-annunciate each unique variation one by one. With text-to-speech voiceovers, you can easily edit a single section of your script, then re-render a new audio file in minutes.

Accents and region

Make sure to choose a voiceover that people can easily understand where you’re running your advertisements. For example, if you’re advertising in the United Kingdom, even though an American accent would still technically be considered English, listeners in London may have a hard time understanding an American accent, or it could come across as an accidental mix-up on the part of the advertiser. Fortunately, with text-to-speech platforms like WellSaid Labs, you can choose the region that’s right for you, and even account for local pronunciations (like ant vs. aw-nt) in your scripts.

Tips for creating effective voiceovers in advertising

With all of the options in voiceover advertising, below are a few key tips for creating the most effective voiceover advertisements possible.

Provide one clear takeaway

In most audio advertisements, you only have 15 to 60 seconds to get your point across. Don’t confuse consumers by giving them multiple points to digest. Focus on one clear call to action such as purchase, subscribe, sign up for a free trial, and so on. Let the overarching goal of your advertisement inform your call to action. For example, if you’re measuring your advertisement’s success based on the number of sales, don’t encourage people to follow your social media handles. Instead, encourage them to buy, buy, buy.

Adjust voiceover pacing based on format

If you’re advertising on television, you might be able to get away with a faster voiceover because your audience has visuals to supplement the audio. However, if you’re relying on voiceover alone—such as on a podcast—you might need to slow your voiceover to help with listener comprehension. As mentioned above, just be careful not to slow down too much for audio-only formats, as listeners can perceive that as dead air. Aim for the sweet spot of easy-to-understand, curiosity-piquing, and action-inducing.

A stronger script leads to a stronger voiceover

Ultimately, a voiceover relies on a solid script to create a solid voiceover. Take the time to craft a high-quality script before pairing it with a voiceover. A script should set the foundation for a voiceover to build on top of. Remember to write your script based on your advertising goals, audience, advertisement length, and call to action.

Fortunately, with text-to-speech platforms, it’s easy to playback a voiceover and determine if a few simple script edits could enhance your final product. For example, you can insert commas into a script to instruct a WellSaid Labs Voice Avatar to pause, or you can add capitalization to cause verbal emphasis.

If you start with a strong script—and then find the voice that brings it to life and enhances it—you have a winning combination to sell products, services, and your brand as a whole.

 – – –

While advertising has been around for ages, voiceover in advertising is full of fresh innovation and opportunity. With text-to-speech voiceovers, advertisers can override many of the inefficiencies and prohibitive costs associated with traditional voiceovers and advertising. With the right voiceover, a brand can turn a single advertisement into millions of new customers, fans, and followers who like what they hear enough to buy.

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Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

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