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The History of Commercials: A Voiceover Voyage

By Alan Shires. Published Aug 23, 2023.
Filed Under: Commercials

The History of Commercials - How It Evolved

When we flick through channels on our TVs or scroll down our YouTube feeds, we're often met with a barrage of advertisements. For voice actors, commercials represent an opportunity to showcase talent, versatility, and the power of the spoken word. But how did we get here? Let's embark on a melodious journey through the history of commercials and voiceover, especially for those aspiring to find their voice in the ad world.

Our story begins in the early 20th century. Silent films reigned supreme, and visual storytelling was paramount. But with the invention of the 'talkies', a revolution took place. As films found their voice, so did advertisements. The earliest voiceovers had a distinct theatrical flair - imagine a deep, resonant voice announcing, "Introducing the latest in automotive luxury!" Yes, they were a tad dramatic, but remember, this was the era of grand gestures.

Commercial History - The Rise of the Hard Sell

Enter the 1960s and 1970s: a time of big hair, even bigger collars, and the biggest sales pitches you've ever heard. This was the era of the 'hard sell'. Voiceovers became louder and more urgent. If you've ever heard an old commercial practically screaming at you to buy something, you're familiar with this style. Think of phrases like "Act now!" or "Limited time offer!" - voiced with such intensity that you'd fear missing out.

A classic example? The infamously used car commercials. Picture a voice actor, with gusto, shouting about "Low, low prices!" and "Deals you can't refuse!" It was the era where subtlety took a backseat, and voice actors were all about that punch.

A Shift to the Soft Sell in Commercials

However, as with all things in history, trends change. The 90s ushered in a new era for voiceover in commercials. Gone were the days of shouting at audiences to buy a product. Instead, the approach became more personal, and more intimate.

This 'soft sell' technique was characterized by its understated, conversational tone. Instead of feeling like someone was selling you a product, it felt like a friend was recommending it. A prime example? Think of Apple's iconic "Think Different" campaign. The voiceover, delivered by Richard Dreyfuss (though many believe it to be Steve Jobs), was calm, reassuring, and utterly relatable. There was no shouting, no urgency – just a simple, compelling narrative.

Modern-Day Commercials

Fast forward to today, and the trend towards natural and conversational commercials continues to grow. Modern audiences are savvy; they don't want to be 'sold' to. They want authenticity, a genuine connection. The modern voice actor understands this, employing a tone that's more akin to chatting over coffee than presenting a sales pitch. Brands like Dove, with their "Real Beauty" campaigns, perfectly encapsulate this shift. The voiceovers in these commercials speak to the viewer, not at them, creating an inclusive and inviting narrative.

For those of you looking to make a mark in commercial voiceovers, the message is clear: Be real. Ditch the over-the-top theatricality and focus on genuine, authentic delivery. Today's audiences want to connect, to feel understood. Your voice could be the bridge that fosters that connection. In a world filled with noise, a conversational tone stands out. It's not about being the loudest in the room but being the most memorable, And sometimes, a soft, genuine whisper can be more impactful than the loudest shout.

The History of Commercials Summed Up

The history of commercials and voiceovers offers a fascinating look into the evolving tastes and preferences of audiences. From theatrical beginnings to the hard sell and now, the era of conversation, one thing remains constant: the power of the human voice. As voice actors, it's our privilege to wield this power, to tell stories, and to connect with audiences worldwide. So, whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out, remember: it's not about selling a product; it's about telling a story. In that process, your voice is invaluable.

Side note: If you ever feel the urge to shout about low, low prices – maybe save it for a throwback Thursday post.

The History of Commercials by Alan Shires

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