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Basics of Commercials Reads

This lesson is a part of an audio course Introduction to Voice-Over by Joe McNeil and Allison Moffett

Welcome to Lesson 5 “Basics of Commercial Reads.” In this lesson, you’ll learn about voice-over for commercial reads.

First a bit of terminology. A voice-over script is often referred to as the copy.

The purpose of a commercial read is to sell something. There’s what’s called hard-sell and soft-sell. The differences in these two reads are the energy, speed, and the language of the script. Listen to these two examples. The first is more of a hard-sell and the second is a soft-sell.

It’s not unusual to get the direction, “sell without sounding like you’re selling.” What do you think that means? The idea is to talk to your audience rather than sell to them. It’s the same idea we discussed in our last lesson—that you want to sound like you’re talking, not reading. How do you sell without selling? Think about a time when a product you purchased really impressed you. It solved a problem you’d been having or made your life easier in some way. If you told a close friend about that experience, how do you think that would sound? You’d be enthusiastic, impressed, and want to encourage your friend to use the product as well to make their life easier.

This process of relating your own experience to the voice-over script, helps make it personal for you. You can use your experience and apply it to the situation presented in the copy. That’s the “everyday acting” we talked about in Lesson 4.

While we’re talking about selling, it’s crucial, when presented with a commercial VO script, to know what you’re selling. That might sound obvious, but there are subtleties. Let’s say you have a script selling a new laundry detergent. It’s not enough to know that you’re selling laundry detergent. What about it are you selling? Is it cheaper, does it work better, is it eco-friendly? We have dozens and dozens of laundry detergents to choose from, why do we need another one? There has to be a reason and it’s there in the script. Combining through a script and understanding its subtleties is called script analysis.

Here’s a great way to analyze a commercial VO script—paraphrase it. Say what the script says, but in your own words. Don’t use the words in the script, figure out how to say it your own way. It doesn’t matter if you uh and umm your way through. It really helps you understand what’s in the script. Here’s a short example. My script says:

“These running shoes are made of the lightest material available.”

To paraphrase that I might say, “You won’t find a pair of running shoes lighter than this.”

This probably seems pointless for one sentence, but doing this for 30 or 60 seconds of copy really helps get to the heart of the script. You’ll understand what you’re selling and why.

Let’s move on to a couple of things that come up a lot in commercial voice-over reads: smile and billboarding.

To put “smile” in your voice literally means smiling while you’re talking. When someone smiles as they’re talking, you can hear it. Listen to these two examples. The first is without a smile and the second is with a smile.

The smiler read sounds warmer, friendlier. That’s the point. Smile isn’t appropriate for every reader, but it definitely comes up.

Billboarding is a term that means highlighting a word or phrase in the script. A director might say, “Can you billboard that product name?” That means to emphasize it so it stands out. There are various ways to emphasize something in speech—with volume, inflection, pauses. To do that skillfully and subtly is important for VO. By the way, instead of the term “billboard,” some directors use “sparkle” or “tickle.”

In Lesson 4, we talked about the speed or pacing of the read. It’s not unusual to get a VO script that is longer than the allotted time. Voice-over for TV commercials usually doesn’t have this issue because there are breaks in the VO for the visuals. But on the radio, there’s nothing to look at so the VO is nonstop. That means that sometimes you have to read very quickly to get through all the copies in time. Here’s an example.

Being able to read quickly and pronounce the words clearly is essential.

Let’s do a quick recap before moving on:

  • The purpose of a commercial read is to sell something. There are hard sells and soft sells.
  • Selling without sounding like you’re selling is similar to the idea of talking not reading.
  • Combining through a script and understanding its subtleties is called script analysis.
  • Paraphrasing is a great way to analyze a commercial script.
  • Putting a smile in your voice and billboarding, or emphasizing certain words or phrases are two things that come up a lot in commercial VO reads.
  • It’s important to understand that the elements we’ve discussed here don’t just pertain to commercial reads. They can apply to narration reads as well.

Thanks for listening! In Lesson 6, you’ll learn some of the basics of narration reads.