After the Kansas City Chiefs won the 2019 AFC championship game, they needed to create an electrifying commercial that would build hype for Super Bowl LIV. An ordinary ad would not cut it. An ordinary NFL voice over would not cut it.
Just like the team itself, the ad had to look and sound like a champion.
It had to be bold, confident and upbeat. It had to energize fans and attract TV viewers. So, when it came time for the Chiefs to hire voice over talent for the ad, the goal couldn’t be clearer. They needed an outstanding voice over performance for an outstanding Superbowl performance by the soon-to-be NFL Champions.
As the voice artist for this ad, I want to take a moment to break it down and identify what makes it successful from an NFL voice over perspective.
Some background behind the NFL voice over
For the Chiefs’ Super Bowl preview ad, the NFL voice over was cast and produced using traditional voiceover methods and structures: a voiceover agency located in Los Angeles, CA.
In looking for a voice artist, the team and voiceover agency knew the qualities that would make the ad successful: a cool narrator voice that sounded youthful, energetic, hopeful and fun. They also wanted an urban and/or an African American voice over to reflect the Chiefs’ diverse, multi-cultural and loyal fan base.
Too often, NFL voice overs tend to sound stodgy or too serious (and below, I’ll show you how NFL promos have evolved over time). But the Chiefs were vying for their first Super Bowl win in 50 years. So they needed something fresher and younger.
But what is a ‘cool narrator voice?’
It’s easy for any client to say they want a voice over to sound cool or young. But what does that actually mean?
A voice artist may have qualities about their voice that make them right for the role. But that’s only part of it. A professional voice over artist knows how to adjust the tone and cadence of their voice to reinforce the message being expressed.
A cool narrator voice is one that knows rhythm and music. A cool narrator voice understands how to control the beats to the sentences in which he/she performs voice acting.
In the case of the Chiefs’ commercial, the narrator needed to sound as cool and interesting as the fans who support the team, and as cool as the beloved players on the team.
Defining young male voice talent for an NFL voice over
The Chiefs’ ad also needed to sound youthful. So, what exactly does that mean in this context?
I am often described as a young male voice talent. But a young male voice talent doesn’t have to sound childish or young. A young male voice talent can also sound mature and have authority. An understanding of climactic situations and high-pressure situations allows that maturity to come out on the microphone.
The end result is a narrator that sounds energetic, but composed … passionate, but mature … all the hallmarks of leaders and champions, just like the Chiefs themselves.
How NFL ads have changed over time
If you look at NFL commercials from the last few decades, it’s easy to see the many different styles in approach. NFL ads tend to be a reflection of American culture at any given point in time. As cultural norms change, so do the ads. Voice artists need to be attuned to these changes too. They need to constantly re-evaluate their approach and make sure they bring a fresh sound to each ad. Otherwise, they risk making the voice-over sound outdated or hokey.
Here are a few examples that illustrate how much NFL ads have changed over the years.
1990: Monday Night Football Promo
This ad stands out for a few reasons. For one, you have to appreciate the iconic raspy voice of Wolfman Jack, who was a prominent radio DJ in the 80s and 90s. Instead of using his voice as a traditional NFL voice over, they actually show him on the mic. Watch his facial expressions as he delivers each line. I can guarantee he’d be just as expressive even if he weren’t on camera, because that’s often key to an effective delivery.
If you’re thinking this feels like the start of a sermon, you’re absolutely right. That’s the essence of this ad. It makes Monday Night Football feel like a ritual. It shows families, friends and coworkers getting together—wherever they are—to watch the game. The music track is Hank Williams Jr.’s “All My Rowdy Friends Are Here on Monday Night,” which was the anthem for Monday Night Football from 1998 to 2011. The track gives the ad a country vibe, but the overall goal is to present Monday Night Football as a fun tradition for everyone.
2002: Coors Light NFL “Twins” Ad
If you watched football in 2002, you could not escape this Coors Light ad. It played so heavily in the early 2000s that it was spoofed by shows like Saturday Night Live and, 15 years later, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Unlike the family focus of the Monday Night Football promo above, this commercial went hard for the masculine party angle: guys tailgating, drinking beer and admiring cheerleaders. Despite the heavy airplay, this ad was controversial at the time and was reportedly called “the most misogynistic ad of the year.” But it would be even more controversial (and cringeworthy) today, showing how quickly advertising evolves with the changing times.
2012: Thursday Night Football Promo
With this promo for Thursday Night Football, we enter a new era of modern-day hype ad, featuring a hip-hop-inspired track by Machine Gun Kelly and Ester Dean. It does not feature any NFL voice over in the traditional sense – just the music, lyrics and some audio clips of play-by-play announcers. It’s a flashy, energetic ad that aims to capture the excitement of watching football on the NFL Network.
2021: NFL Super Bowl LV ‘As One’ Ad
This ad, which promoted the Super Bowl at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, is a perfect example of how NFL commercials have changed over the years, even when the underlying goals are the same. NFL ads have used an inspirational angle for years. But this promo took it to a new level at a time when viewers were desperate for a return to normalcy. The ad does not directly mention Covid, but it captures the moment visually: families distancing from each other, healthcare workers embracing each other, businesses being boarded up. For the voiceover, the NFL used AI technology to recreate the voice and likeness of famed Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi. The effect is chilling, yet powerful, especially as it builds to its inspirational ending, juxtaposing live footage from the stadium with Lombardi’s words: “It’s not whether we get knocked down, but whether we get back up … as one.”
Not surprisingly, the response was mixed. Some found it inspiring, while others were “weirded out.” But regardless of its success, the ad also ushered in a new era of unknowns for AI-assisted media and the impact that technology will have on advertising and NFL voice overs in the future.
Comparing NFL voice overs with other sports ads
It’s important to remember that every ad is different: different script, different vibe, different energy, different goal. Voice artists need to adjust their approach according to the unique needs of every VO. (That’s true for all voice overs, not just sports or NFL voice overs.)
For example, compare the Chiefs ad above with another voiceover I did for Under Armour:
Both ads are high-energy and inspirational. They’re meant to hype you up. But listen closely to the differences in tone. In the Chiefs’ Super Bowl promo, the voice sounds like it could be a hard-core fan sitting next to you at the game, or maybe even a player on the field: relatable, knowledgeable, on your team.
In the Under Armour ad, the voice is more raw and edgy. It’s the voice inside your head, pushing you to go harder and never give up. For the VO, I articulate the words harder. I go louder. Angrier. Then, I bring it down at the very end, like the cool-down after an intense win.
So even though both ads are related to sports, the approach to each voice over is actually very different.
Now, compare that voice over with the approach I used in an ad for Liberty University, below. This was not technically a “sports ad,” but since Liberty is known for its athletics program, sports were a prominent focus. At the same time, the high-energy, motivational vibe had to extend beyond sports to apply to academic performance. The voice is cool, composed and determined – just like Liberty’s students.
Now, let’s switch gears even harder. The ad below for Quicksilver showcases an entirely different approach to sports ad voiceovers. Yes, the motivational element is still there. But the copy is almost poetic. It speaks to a different audience. I used a softer approach to start, as if I were speaking directly to the viewer, waking them from a dream. I slowly build the tempo along with the beat of the ad, challenging the audience to “get back out there.”
Again, every ad is different, so you can see how the VO approach needs to adapt every time.
PRO TIP: When doing NFL voice over auditions, try to study the NFL team’s attitude and marketing. See if you can find the angle of attitude. Does the team provoke maximum authority? Does the team have a more subtle approach and an intimate approach to their marketing?
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