"Bright. Crisp. Clean. Pure," says the silky smooth, perfectly masculine voice on the beer commercial. "This is Budweiser. This is beer." Quick, who is that? Hint: It's a big movie star. Though his name's never mentioned, the makers of Budweiser are banking on the fact that you'll get it eventually - and that you'll say "Wow!" when you do.I find that last part about the "mystery" especially true. I've been thinking a lot ever since I heard a Jameson Whiskey radio ad because it sounds mostly like Steve Carell, though at times it also sounds like it could be Stephen Colbert or even Mo Rocca. But figuring it out made me pay more attention to it, and that's the real goal.
Twenty years ago, voice-overs were the domain of the baritone radio announcer or the character actor. No longer. These days, more A-list stars than you might imagine are cashing in.
Kevin Spacey's pitching Honda. Kelsey Grammer does Disney. Kiefer Sutherland voices Apple commercials, and his dad, Donald, did Volvo. There's Queen Latifah (Pizza Hut), Sean Connery (Level 3 Communications), Christian Slater (Panasonic), Gene Hackman (Oppenheimer Funds) - oh, and then there's Julia Roberts. That's right, Julia Roberts, in a recent campaign for America Online.
"Honestly, sometimes I'm mystified," says Maureen Kelly, a casting director who has worked in the voice-over field for two decades. "I guarantee you most people couldn't tell the AOL voice was Julia Roberts. I'm just not sure why advertisers spend this astronomical amount of money when the voice isn't even identifiable."
By astronomical, we're talking seven figures, easy. Although companies won't say how much they pay, industry experts say a megastar like Roberts would have to make well into that range.
Or George Clooney, that mysterious Budweiser voice. When Anheuser-Busch was searching for "a classic voice" last year, the company hit on Clooney as the perfect embodiment of its product. "George Clooney - it's almost a brand in itself," says Dan McHugh, vice president for trademark brands. "It just made a lot of sense for us."
The idea, says McHugh, is that the consumer will "sort of know the voice. They may not necessarily place it right away, but when they do, they say, 'Wow' "! It's that whole intrigue of discovery." In other words, the "cool" factor is higher because there's mystery involved.