We hear the word ‘storytelling’ or ‘storyteller’ a lot these days. What exactly does it mean? Are we talking about the bedtime stories that we heard as children? Or perhaps theater, movies, or books? Of course, it is and can be, but in the commercial world, the way we take in information has changed. In media and marketing production, storytelling becomes a substitute for advertising. No one wants to be sold anything these days, but since before the days of Scheherazade and her ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ we have been fascinated by stories. Greek myths, folk tales, fairy tales, fables, oral traditions have all been a way to entertain and communicate the values, lessons, and morality of a culture. Storytelling in advertising means using an engaging narrative to tell a company story or brand rather than a sales pitch. It’s used everywhere nowadays, in commercials, video production, training, e-learning, video games, art, photography, and more.
Does that mean a VoiceOver artist is always a Storyteller?
Certainly, but there are exceptions. A voiceover artist or narrator’s job is to communicate the story of a brand or product. A lot depends on the script which is the roadmap of the story. If the words are written in a high sell way, for example, you are telling less of a story and delivering more of a pitch. It still might be effective depending on the product or brand but you should know the difference between storytelling and selling. While they both in the end want to attract customers and sales, one appeals more to community, values, and ideas, the other to direct selling—just give me the facts - $9.99 for a pack of toilet paper.
Is Storytelling or Advertising a Generational thing?
While we’ve been listening and telling stories since the Neanderthal cave paintings 64,000 years ago, styles and what resonates change. People are more likely to remember a brand or product if there is a story attached to it rather than just facts. Humans want to feel something, and no one wants to be talked at..which was a very common way of marketing in the recent past. TV was used as the primary form of advertising for Baby Boomers, ads were fast and to the point. In VoiceOver terms, it was often a white male announcer with a deep, broadcaster voice who told you what you needed, whether you did or not.
Gen X, also known as the MTV generation, was highly influenced by the quick pace of music videos. ‘I Want my MTV’ was a campaign created by iconic advertising guru George Lois. The idea was to get cable companies to air MTV which was a fledgling station in the early ’80s. Advertisers borrowed from MTV with quick rhymes that would get stuck in the buyer's head like earworm. Voiceover in advertising was still mainly white male, very polished, slick, and commercial sounding.
Millennials - Gen Y don’t like being sold to, (actually nobody does), but marketers changed their approach, where they advertise, as they followed and tried to attract Millennials ,who grew up with reality television, the internet and social media. In VoiceOver this means the style changed from sleek and polished to more natural, real authentic, and the keyword conversational! Most voice-over specs nowadays say ‘conversational’ even if the copy is anything but… Voiceover is open to more women than in previous generations. Sharing information, rather than pushing products is preferred.
Gen Z generation are attracted to real people and transparency. Influencers are the new celebrities. YouTube has replaced MTV. They are not interested in people acting a part. They want the real deal. For VoiceOver this means diversity is key. Authentic and genuine people are wanted. Someone imitating a trans BIPOC for example is unacceptable. It also means advertisers are open to more stories from formally unrepresented communities and new opportunities to reach and engage with consumers. In VoiceOver this can mean an almost flat, real, just tell the story read without adding a lot. Although, a professional voice talent will use a nuanced approach by changing tonalities, pacing, intentions as the story unfolds. So while it may appear there is nothing on the script in a flat read, there should be many transitions and changes throughout the performance, but they do not appear ‘big’ or ‘performed’ as in previous years.
People want Stories
It actually doesn’t matter what generation you fall into, in today’s times, what matters is that stories have an emotional impact of some sort. It could be funny or moving but must be engaging. You might choose an older or younger sounding voice depending on the project, but the point is the public wants to be invested in the brand or project. A popular way to do this in marketing is through video branding. Often, shorter videos are used..short because consumers don’t have a long attention span, as they are used to scrolling through social media quickly. Stopping the scroll is key. Most people will respond to an engaging story even if they weren’t planning on it. Brands connect with the public by telling their story, how they do what they do, why they do what they do and why we the public should care. This is accomplished by using a variety of techniques - starting with a meaningful story, creating a storyboard where the images correspond to the voiceover and adding music. Or in e-learning instead of just giving facts (although true confession, I’m a fact lover) find a narrative story as an example for the information you want to disseminate. While video games may be packed with action, they currently revolve more around a narrative story using realistic, natural voices as opposed to big cartoony caricatures or animated voices
You're as Good as the Story you Tell
credit: Nancy Kaszerman
People sometimes say ’I could listen to Morgan Freeman recite the phone book’… even assuming you know what a phone book is, I can assure you as wonderful as Morgan Freeman is, listening to the reading of a phone book would get pretty dull quickly. No matter how great the editing, video, music, or voiceover, you must have a story to tell. Knowing your product or brand, getting a good scriptwriter to develop the architecture of your story, understanding the values, community, and audience will help people experience your company and become more invested as opposed to sales pitches which are a major turnoff these days. Storytelling is sharing information, educating, and human connection. It’s chatty, often informative, and relatable. The audience must see themselves in the story.
Choosing a Storyteller to Represent your Company or Project
The more you can specify, have a clear vision and infuse storytelling, the more likely the listener will connect with your brand or message. Let’s say, for example, you're producing a healthcare project, the more you can elicit trust and confidence the more likely your audience will relate. This can be done with a grounded, proud, voice whether it’s female or male. Having an idea and targeting who the message is primarily for will help determine the vocal quality of the narration. If possible, it’s always best to ask for an audition with a portion of your script unless you are already familiar with your voice talent of choice. Professional talents are usually happy to provide a short sample so you can hear if the voice is a good match for your story. But remember that no matter how nice a voice sounds, they need to be able to deliver the message using current approaches. Finding a talent who can genuinely convey emotions through their own authenticity will bring the storytelling to life.
Nancy Kaszerman is a professional voice talent for over 10 years and is located in NYC. Please feel free to comment, ask a question and connect on social media
Nancy Kaszerman is a VoiceOver artist and lives in New York City.