James Dooley unveils tips and techniques used in narrating commercials for Budweiser, KAYAK, Dove Soap, Kinder Bueno, Quaker, and Honey Nut Cheerios, sharing insights from his 20+ year career as a professional voice actor.
Full playlist here: James Dooley Commercial Voiceover Samples
Pulling Back the Curtain
How Did You End Up Being the Person Doing the Voice for Commercials?
There’s definitely a bit of luck, and being in the right place at the right time. It helped that I have a deep voice, but the pivotal moment happened when I was the sound engineer for a media company that occasionally recorded voiceover. Someone who was scheduled to record couldn’t make it to the session, so the boss asked me to step in. It was a thrill to be on the other side of the glass. After that session I did everything I could to learn how to play in the big leagues.
Having a good voice is part of it, but arguably the most important thing is being able to lift the words off the page and make them sound like your own.
Check, one-two, one-two…
After that it’s all about practicing. Then practicing some more, and then practicing even more still. With time, aspiring voice talent will benefit from recording themselves and listening back, hearing what sounds great and – this is key – finding the deficits. When you identify where you might be struggling… you can work on it. You can make it better. Be critical. Pay attention to what you do well, and build on the areas that need to be stronger. You’ll gain tools you can use later on.
Are you an aspiring voice actor? Try this fun exercise to help gauge your abilities:
The Voice Behind the Brands
Quaker Oats, “Quakerborough”
For this Quaker commercial, the key was remembering that I’m from Quakerborough and that I’m thump-your-chest proud of that fact. I know the guy in the pickup truck and generations of my family have lived here. That was the first thing I did – convince myself that I live there.
After that, I thought about what my voice should sound like. It wouldn’t make sense to sound perky and excited, but it does make sense to sound wholesome. The voice of the farmer who grew the oats. The voice of the cook at the diner on Main Street who slings oatmeal for people coming in from the cold. Perfect enunciation is not your friend here, but channeling something in the vein of Wilfred Brimley does the trick nicely.
Honey Nut Cheerios
This is similar to the Quaker spot in the sense that it’s wholesome but this time, I am enunciating. I’m also a little younger sounding – no need to sound grizzled. I’m not coming in from the field after growing the grains, I’m the warm and friendly disembodied voice that families trust.
You’ll notice that there’s a smile on my face for this spot, whereas the Quaker Oats character had no smile but perhaps a hint of a smug grin – if that.
Budweiser, Bud Light Lime-a-Rita
Speaking of smiles… in this Bud Light spot, I was miles away from those wholesome Quaker and Honey Nut Cheerios characters. Here, I ramped up the smiling because it’s a party! We’re poolside, we’re young, and there’s even a hint of mischievousness in there. One similarity to the previous ads is a sense of pride embedded in the read. As much as I’m looking forward to sharing a cold one with you, I can’t wait to tell you about the wonderful qualities of this drink before I do.
This one’s a personal favorite. KAYAK needed a wry, somewhat sarcastic delivery to land the comedy behind the concept. Yes, we are keenly aware that this will make you cringe (who doesn’t shudder when they hear the dentist’s drill?”) but we’ll make it worth your journey by delivering a highly stress-free solution… the right flight at the best price.
My motivation for this character? You’re that person at a party, leaning against the wall with your hands in your pockets, midway through telling a joke that you know always gets a laugh.
Dove Soap, Dove Men+Care
For Dove Men+Care, my approach was to try and sound like a combination of three elements: 1. an announcer who is 2. a friend you trust and 3. just so happens to be a scientist. Sounds complicated, right? The key (as always) is to sound genuine.
Kinder, Kinder Bueno
For this Kinder spot, I was keenly aware that I’m simultaneously talking to two people, a child and a parent. There’s warmth, slow pacing and clarity, and a big ol’ smile – conveying to both parties a sense of trustworthiness.
There can be a tendency to focus on the length of the commercial (this one is a whopping fifteen seconds) when you’re in the booth, especially if you’re “reading to picture” and delivering the script while watching the filmed commercial. My focus was on the tone and making sure I sounded genuine. You can always chop a take into the mix and see if it fits, and if it doesn’t, you can take another run at it slightly faster or slower, as need be.
For Those About to Talk, We Salute You!
When it comes to recording commercial voiceover, sincerity is crucial. As professionals, our job is to convey a brand’s essence or a product’s benefits genuinely, building trust with the audience. It’s not just about the words but also the emotions and experiences that bring authenticity to the delivery.
It’s about more than just the words; it’s the memories from lived experiences that you draw from to get into character – the emotions conveyed – that truly make a difference.
Understand the brand, know your audience, and make the script feel like a genuine conversation.
Need more of a deep dive into the world of commercial voiceover and how to land those gigs? You might want to check out: The Single Most Important Thing a Voice Actor Needs to Know to Deliver Their Best Performance
Got questions? Reach out firstname.lastname@example.org
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