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The best of 2020: brilliance in brand voice

Dec 07, 2020
The concept of branding is something that’s continually developing and defining – but what’s clearer than ever before, is that voice has been critical to breaking through the clutter and capturing attention. 2020 saw businesses really embrace the power of speech to convert indifferent consumers into brand enthusiasts. So as we reach the end of a history-making year, we reflect on some of the best ways voice has become a real brand asset. Whether it’s in terms of tone, voiceover artistry or speech recognition technology, they’re delivering a focused and effective message that truly speaks to their audience.
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Boosting brand trustworthiness: a voice to identify with
Whether it’s the instantly recognisable intonations of Morgan Freeman – or a lesser-known voice you can’t quite place – familiarity equals trust, and creates an emotional connection. Beyond boosting brand-trustworthiness, celebrities bring with them a ready-made audience, generate more publicity, expose your product to a wider demographic, and establish credibility in foreign markets – hence a rise in high-profile voice artistry across a variety of campaigns, including Chris Pine for BMW, Ving Rhames for Arby’s, and John Lithgow for Progresso Soup.

A standout from this year is Apple’s latest spot, which leverages Helena Bonham Carter’s celebrated acting-abilities to fantastic effect. Beginning with a stereotypically British gravitas, Bonham Carter adds weight to an awe-inspiring intro, before being repeatedly interrupted by Apple Watch-wearers. The actress then careens into a playfully irritated tone, even childishly mimicking one speaker, resulting in a delightfully comedic take on generic tech advertisements.

Meanwhile, over in the political sphere, Sam Elliot recently voiced Joe Biden’s presidential campaign ads – lending his mature, authoritative baritone to a simple piano rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” in a bid to build voter confidence.

Of course, while celebrity voiceover artistry is an easy choice for big brands with even bigger budgets, not every business has the resources to secure a famous speaker. But as in both these examples, the best commercial voice-overs don’t rest on star-power - they rely on intent and delivery.

A tone for the times:
Brand voice is an all-encompassing term that refers to not just who speaks – but how. From the tone of your copy, to the way you position your message, and the sentiment you seek to instil, your brand voice is the personality that infuses your communications, creating a memorable audience experience.

In the midst of an unprecedented year, a key challenge for many brands has been to adapt their tone for the times we’re living through, without losing sight of their established identity. Guinness for example, an iconic brand associated with cutting edge advertising, sporting events, and good times in general, opted for a family-friendly St Patrick’s Day ad campaign, with a warm Irish voiceover reminding people to look after each other, celebrate safely, and support their local pub.

Meanwhile, in the States, the Edelman Trust Barometer report for 2020 found that 85% of people across the globe wanted brands to act as an educator during the pandemic – a trend leading cold and flu brand, Mucinex, honed in on with their ‘facts not fear’ campaign. Offering instructional advice on how to stay safe, they made excellent use of a fact-based, straightforward tone that proved both refreshing and powerful against a backdrop of a very different-looking year.
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The rise and rise of voice-activated tech:
We’ve explored the continued rise of smart speakers and voice recognition in advertising in several blogs this year, and across 2020, have seen more and more businesses adopt this technology to flex their creativity in fresh ways.

With trips to the beauty counter stymied by current restrictions, NARS made the clever choice to team up with Spotify on a voice-activated advertising campaign that allowed consumers to turn their smart speaker into a friendly consultant, and order cosmetic samples direct from device to door in one command.

Lucky Charms and Burger King also ventured into this burgeoning medium, with the former launching an Alexa skill that tapped into the emotive pull of nostalgia and the wonder of storytelling – an immersive St Patrick’s Day themed choose-your-own-adventure tale. In a separate seasonal stunt, Burger King continued its tradition of mocking McDonald's with a Halloween campaign that dared patrons in Sweden and Denmark to say "cancelled clown" three times into a restaurant restroom mirror, after which Ronald McDonald menacingly appeared in the reflection. Referencing the "Bloody Mary," the ghost of their rival’s mascot was resurrected with the use of voice-recognition technology, lights, sounds, and visual effects.
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2021 and beyond:
These campaigns barely scratch the surface of the creative leaps taken over the past year – but as an increasing number of companies discover the value of voice as a brand asset, it’s a trend that looks set to go from strength to strength. With voice-shopping on-schedule to become a $40billion industry by 2022, there are boundless opportunities for brands to assert their identity with voice artistry and tech – and we look forward to welcoming and embracing these developments in the months to come.