Voice of God No Longer in Style in Political Ads

Daniel Libit has a fantastic article in Politico (found through Patrick Ruffini) that reviews the trends in political ad voiceovers. John McCain’s voice of choice comes from “Joan,” whose last name must remain a “corporate secret.” From the article:

“One thing we like about this voice,” said Bill Kenyon, Strategic Perception’s political director, “is it doesn’t have any real distinct tonality to it. It’s pleasant to listen to. It’s an every-woman’s voice.”

…Women are expected to play an unprecedented role this cycle in the male-dominated world of political ad voiceovers. And veteran female voice-over performers who for years were instructed to resemble scolding mothers are now being directed to sound more like best friends.

“The voice of God” construct that once was supposed to command maximum credibility, is increasingly being eschewed for voices that would sound less absurd at the dinner table. The idea, says McCain’s former media consultant Mark McKinnon, is to find voices that don’t “scream to the viewer, ‘it’s an announcer.’”

“The sort of straight authoritarian announcer sometimes is still appropriate, but a lot of times it will be noise or wallpaper to people,” said Eric Adelstein, a Democratic media consultant and veteran of three presidential campaigns.

The McCain campaign’s “Joan” has been especially useful in ads that mark Barack Obama as an incompetent potential leader:

It is a rule of thumb in the business…that “frivolous content equals female voice.”

Slate covered general trends in voiceovers back in 2005. Journalist Seth Stevenson’s points match up well with what political ads appear to be doing. That is, more familiarity, more celebrity voiceovers, and less blanket male authority.

My question: If a female voice indicates frivolity, what would a “legitimate” voice sound like (disclaimer: that voice cannot be God)?

And, speaking of God, doesn’t McCain appear as though he’s smiling into a soft, celestial glow at the end of the ad? Looks like the Big Guy in the Sky still plays a visual role.

Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.