It’s a question that creative directors and writers ask themselves all the time.
Recently Adweek and Harris Interactive set out to answer this question with a survey conducted over 3 days in February. The survey, titled “The Effect of Voices in Commercials”, asked over 2,000 online participants a series of questions such as:
When there is a voiceover in a commercial, which type of voice is…
The results were shown as a whole and also broken down by the gender of the respondents. Harris Interactive goes on to say this about their methodology:
Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Where appropriate, this data were also weighted to reflect the composition of the adult online population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.
In Adweek’s news blurb on the survey, they state that “gender stereotypes are alive and well”.
On the question of which sort is “more forceful,” 48 percent of respondents said a male voiceover is, vs. 2 percent saying a female voiceover is. (The rest said it makes no difference.) The pattern was just the opposite when people were asked to say which is “more soothing,” with the female outpointing the male by 46 percent to 8 percent. There was no significant gap, though, on the question of which is “more persuasive.” Eighteen percent said a male voiceover is, while 19 percent said a female voiceover is.
When the results were broken down by the gender of the respondents, 51% of men and 46% of women felt male voices were ‘more forceful’, while 54% of men and 38% of women thought women were ‘more soothing’.
When it comes to selling a car, 28% of respondents felt a male voice was more likely, while only 7% felt a female voice would work better. A whopping 66% said it made no difference. Similarly, when the product was a computer, 23% felt a male voice was more likely while only 7% sided with the female voice over. Again, the bigger number is the 69% who said it made no difference.
So what does it all mean?
As the Adweek author suggests, the survey seems to break down along stereotypical lines, like you might expect. Words like ‘forceful’ and ‘soothing’ have natural male and female connotations, so it follows that more people would associate a male voice as being more forceful and a female voice as being more soothing. If anything, I’m surprised that the percentages weren’t higher. I think the interesting thing to notice is that for each question nearly half of the respondents felt it made no difference whether it was a male voice or female voice.
Secondly, as a commenter pointed out in the Adweek article, how people answer a survey and how they actually react or take action are sometimes two different things. Advertising works when it creates an emotional response or connection. It’s often a process that takes place without a lot of conscious thought.
When it comes to deciding which gender is more persuasive in advertising the survey neglects too many other factors to be relevant, such as target audience, ability of the individual voice talent, the product or service that is being advertised, etc.
So, does gender matter when casting voice talent? Sure it does, but it’s only one of several factors that a good casting director should take into account. With each new campaign or script, you must ask yourself:
Once you know who you’re talking to and how you want them to connect to your message, it should become clear as to how you should cast the voice over.