‘Tis the Season: 5 Voice Over Tips for Holiday Ads

Notice the differences between these two classic holiday ads with voiceovers? Yes, the time periods are completely different, but that’s not all. These two ads use completely different voice-over styles to deliver the right holiday message. Continue reading below as I break it down.

As a professional voice actor, I’m always paying attention to how other actors approach their voice-over work. I love being surprised by fresh new voices or unique approaches to a script. But I also notice when commercial voice overs miss the mark.

That’s especially true during the holidays, because there’s such a diverse range of ads. Hard-hitting sales commercials (think Black Friday and Cyber Monday). Heartwarming holiday messages. Optimistic New Year’s ads. All of these are seasonal ads, but they often have very different messages, each with a very different “sound.”

Just look at the two ads above.

One is from Kodak in 1976. The other is the iconic Sprite Cranberry ad from 2018. In the Kodak ad, listen to how the voice artist reads the script. It’s almost a whisper as he reads the opening lines to “The Night Before Christmas,” juxtaposed with quiet images of a baby hose. Even when the voice describes the product, it’s soft and comforting, which matches the heartwarming scene of a Christmas down on the farm.

Now, compare that to the Sprite commercial. Totally different vibe. Faster tempo. Faster pacing. It puts a fresh spin on a classic holiday song, which sets the tone of the ad: fun, lively, even a little frenetic (like any family party during the holidays). The ad features two powerhouse voices: the rhythmic vocals of hip-hop artist DRAM, and a surprise appearance by LeBron James. The two voices play off each other as part of the song’s lyrics:

DRAM: I have just one query … [what’s that?]

LeBron: Wanna a Sprite Cranberry? [uh-huh!]

DRAM: The answer is clear … it’s the thirst, thirstiest time of the year

The effect is very fun – yet also very comforting and familiar (but in a completely different way than the Kodak ad).

These VO styles are well-matched for each commercial. But what if they hadn’t been? What if the styles had been switched? The ads would feel off, right?

Whenever a voice doesn’t match up with the message, it can be jarring.

This is why voice artists must be able to adjust their styles to the needs of each project. When the voice isn’t quite right, it hurts the effectiveness of the ad. The audience isn’t as moved by it as they could be. Or people tune it out completely.

All professional voice actors have their own approaches and strategies for their VO work. But there are some fundamental things that I think can make all holiday voice-overs stronger and more effective. Here are 5 of them.

  1. Get into the holiday spirit (of the ad). No, I don’t mean putting on your favorite Christmas PJs. I mean identifying the underlying spirit and emotion of the ad and adjusting your delivery accordingly. For example, if it’s a commercial about a cozy Thanksgiving gathering with family, then you should probably slow down the pacing. Step a little closer to the mic and go softer with your voice. It shouldn’t sound like an “end-of-year blowout sale” for a local car dealership. Read the script carefully to make sure your delivery matches the message
  1. Jingle all the way. By this, I mean paying attention to the jingle or music track for the ad. I’ve mentioned in other posts that the music track reveals almost everything I need to know about the energy and attitude of an ad. Holiday ads are no different. If the track is “O Holy Night,” I know to go slow and soft. If it’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” the voice should probably be upbeat and fun.
  1. Preach to the choir. In other words, cater your voice to the intended audience. Ask the client or producer to provide background information on the audiences that will see/hear the ad. This will allow you to speak more authentically with a voice, accent or inflection that resonates with that audience. If your voice sounds like a friend, neighbor or loved one, it can help to build trust and authenticity.
  1. Mix up your inflections. Regardless of the emotion behind the holiday ad (heartwarming, fast-paced, inspiring, etc.), you never want your voice-over to be one-dimensional. You need to have peaks and valleys. Go up and down with your inflections to keep your voice interesting. A voice-over for a holiday ad (or any ad) should never sound monotone.
  1. “Do you hear what I hear?” Enunciate clearly. As with any voice-over job, you need to make sure you’re enunciating each word clearly and pronouncing it correctly. If it sounds like you’ve got a mouthful of Thanksgiving stuffing, or like you’re hurrying out the door to a Black Friday deal, then people won’t understand you. The ad will sound like noise, and people will tune it out.

Done well, holiday ads have the power to be remembered for years to come. As the voice artist, it’s your job to make sure the voice is perfectly matched to the message (or elevates to the next level).

Have a safe and happy holiday season!

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