Ray ”Uh-Huh” Charles’ grin has become synonymous with diet Pepsi. Same with Candice Bergen’s smirk and Sprint. But other celebrities prefer to be heard and not seen in TV commercials. That rasp informing us that ”Spray ‘n Wash gets out what America gets into” belongs to Lauren Bacall, and the eerily timbred voice selling Volvos is Donald Sutherland’s.
More and more stars are looking for such uncredited voice-over work. ”A mysterious kind of cachet has developed around it,” says Chas Cowing, voice-over director of the J. Michael Bloom and Associates talent agency in New York. ”On-camera participation downgrades the viability of an artist. That doesn’t happen with voice-overs.”
It’s also easy work. ”You don’t have to wear makeup and they don’t care if your hair is frosted,” says Broadway star Alison Fraser (The Secret Garden), who does about 100 voice-overs a year. And it can be easy money. One campaign of four commercials could pay a celebrity $250,000, industry insiders say.
Why do companies hire celebs who are not identified? ”There’s a visceral response to a voice that is familiar,” Cowing says. ”When we hear Gene Hackman, we might not recognize him, but we know the voice. Also, the CEO of a company wants to be able to go to a cocktail party and say, ‘Guess who I just spent the day with?”’
Fame: The Story of Alexander Graham Belt; Cocoon
Setting/Content: Bright series in which sun worshippers young and old frolic on the beach.
Pitch: ”Forget all the things you can do on a Club Med vacation, and we’ll show you how even doing nothing can be something unforgettable.”
Voice Appeal: ”We needed a toughness and a warmth at the same time. It became a single-minded pursuit of Don Ameche.” — Alan Blum, vice president, senior copywriter, TBWA
Spray ‘N Wash
Fame: Bogie’s widow; Robards’ ex; whistler
Setting/Content: Norman Rockwell meets —thirtysomething: Casually stylish mom smiles indulgently as children make mud pies and put watermelons on their heads.
Pitch: ”In a world no bigger than a sandbox, no deeper than the mud between toes, it’s Spray ‘n Wash that has gotten out…”
Voice Appeal: ”We’d say, ‘Can you make that sound more smiley?’ and she’d say, ‘Smiley?”’ — Joe Holman, senior advertising manager, DowBrands
Fame: Came this close to being Julia Roberts’ dad-in-law; Ordinary People
Setting/Content: Film noir dramatization of angelic physical therapist working with accident victims, to the sounds of an angelic choir.
Pitch: ”She instilled her horror of accidents in her husband, who happened to run a car company called Volvo”
Voice Appeal: ”His voice sounds scholarly and professional. We did not want (the ad) to sound learned.” — Robert C. Austin, director of communications, Volvo Cars of North America
Fame: Shining Through; Wall Street; Fatal Attraction
Setting/Content: Three spots in which accountant types reclaim their youth and toss aside the car phone while hugging the curves in their leather-lined sedans.
Pitch: ”It’s a car that has the Germans shaking in their lederhosen.”
Voice Appeal: ”Confidence, a bit of irreverence, a level of classiness, elegance, respect — he kind of personifies all of those.” — Robert M. Paske, general marketing manager, Infiniti
Fame: Herman Munster; Car 54, Where Are You?
Setting/Content: Perennially lonesome Maytag repairman (WKRP’s Gordon Jump) stands alone with washing machine, until a basset hound wanders into the picture.
Pitch: ”Maytag is offering you something that won’t last,” Gwynne says in a voice-over ”A 10-year money-back guarantee!”
Voice Appeal: ”We needed a voice that could carry the strength of the message.” — Betsy Simson, vice president, associate creative director, Leo Burnett
Fame: The French Connection; The Poseidon Adventure
Setting/Content: A series of warm, fuzzy spots in which fair-faced children and happy mechanics work and play to the music of Gershwin’s ”Rhapsody in Blue.”
Pitch: ”(Our mechanics are) picky, fussy, stubborn. But if you fly, they’re the best friends you’ll ever have.”
Voice Appeal: ”Affirmative, strong, believable voice. An Everyman, perhaps.” — Marvin Gerstein, associate creative director, Leo Burnett
Fame: Hot Lips Houlihan (in M*A*S*H, the movie)
Setting/Content: Thirtyish women twirl around a lot and pull on their jeans.
Pitch: ”Tonight, all over America, women will be slipping into something a little more comfortable.”
Voice Appeal: ”Sally’s voice breaks through the clutter.” — Mike Robertson, manager of advertising, Lee Company
Fame: Some Like It Hot; The Odd Couple; bit part in JFK
Setting/Content: Two spots: In one, sleek car sits regally on a mountaintop against a sunset; in the other, the car is bombarded by arrows.
Pitch: ”Just get in, and bingo! The future.”
Voice Appeal: ”He has a certain smile to his voice, and a certain wryness…He adds a lot to the party.” — Larry Postaer, creative director, Rubin Postaer and Associates
Fame: Vanity Fair cover; wife of Bruce Willis
Setting/Content: Thirtyish characters inhabit a series of cute, relaxed, at-home-on-a-Saturday-afternoon spots.
Pitch: ”Keds. They feel good.”
Voice Appeal: ”She has a very hip voice.” — David Lubars, executive vice president-creative director, Leonard Monahan Lubars & Kelly
Fame: Bacall’s ex; All the President’s Men; and O’Neill favorite
Setting/Content: Damn near incomprehensible series about a group of disgruntled employees composing a document, which somehow changes their lives for the better.
Pitch: ”Every company has a story to tell, every person a contribution to make.”
Voice Appeal: ”He understood the idea behind the advertising.” — Laurie S. Kahn, executive vice president and director of television production, Young & Rubicam
Campbell’s Home Cookin’ Soup
Fame: American icon
Setting/Content: A group of sixtysomething men enjoy male bonding over chicken soup while unseen Stewart does the ladling (hands belong to a stunt double).
Pitch: ”Golly, Fred — looks like you got nothing to complain about.”
Voice Appeal: ”We thought, ‘Gee, it would be great to have a voice like Jimmy Stewart’s.”’ — Ted Sann, vice chairman and executive creative director, BBDO