voxpops – why sounding normal is so very hard…

The voice of the people

A Voxpop – literally the ‘voice of the people’ – is an advertising term for words spoken by apparently real, genuine punters.  Voxpops are put in ads to offer robust testimonials intended to convince the audience to buy into the features and benefits of the product or service being flogged. (”I never realised frying could be so much fun!  Now I have my healthy, compact and stylish deep fat fryer my family enjoy deep fried mars bars every night!”)  Voxpops also deal explicitly with key customer objections. (”I never thought I’d be a foster parent / liposuction patient / recruitment consultant.  I didn’t think I had the right qualities / thighs / morals. But I couldn’t have been more wrong…”)

Almost always the voxpop’s function is to change the attitude of the listener.  They’re either positively or negatively persuasive – the writer either intends the listener to closely identify with the consumer desire of the voxpop (for instance in a sofa ad where the voxpop waxes lyrical about the stunning versatility of a storage pouffe) or to emphasize the need to change some anti-social behaviour in which the listener may be currently indulging (like in an ad featuring a drink/driver, drug addict, perpetrator of domestic violence and so on).  In all cases, the voxpop is used to get the audience to desire the thing being advocated by the client: to buy the foam memory mattress, to stop taking crack cocaine, to consider the life-enhancing possibilities offered by breast augmentation for instance.  The voxpop is always the voice of the client’s ideal consumer.  So with all this realism in mind, surely voxpops should be authentic?

Real, genuine people

Real, genuine voxpops?   Pfft.  In your dreams. In reality, real people freeze when someone pokes a microphone in their face and asks them to state, specifically, why they bought into a product, service or ideology.  They stutter.  They mumble.  They talk nonsense.  They need very careful handling.  Crucially, they don’t sound persuasive, positive or cheerful.  More often than not, they sound self-conscious and pressurized.  And obviously, that’s not going to help the cause of the commercial.  So that’s where the voiceover comes in…

Reality v reasonable unreality

It’s the voiceover’s job to strike the balance between soundingreally real (ie a bit rubbish and nervous) and sounding like a well-rehearsed actor (ie not convincing at all).  Clients will often say they want the ad to sound as real as possible, but when you demonstrate in the studio just how horrible and shifty ‘really real’ can sound by reading some of their carefully honed voxpop dialogue, they look horrified, panic a bit and opt for a more marketable alternative.

Listen to the Voxpop podcast…

…and you’ll hear the difference between genuine rubbish real, just-about-feasibly-real, you-can-tell-it’s-an-actor real, and the ultimate cheesefest: voiceover real.

Which is usually the one the client plumps for in the end.

“Can you sound 30% more ‘red lipstick’?” – a voiceover playlist of contrast and variety

Who will sing at the inauguration?

“It’s All Go!” – episode 2 is live!

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Emma Clarke

Emma is an award-winning voiceover, broadcaster and writer. Want to find out more about Emma?
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