Once upon a time, it was unseemly for TV and movie stars to appear in commercials. It seemed to cheapen a celebrity’s mystique, to bring them down to Earth, to make them less than the inhumanly beautiful Gods and Angels walking among us that we (and they) so desperately need them to be.
(A notable exception to this unwritten rule has always been actresses and shampoo commercials, maybe because they only amplify and underline their beauty and mystique.)
But this arrangement came at a terrible price (for the celebrities): a literal price, in the form of all the millions of dollars the celebrities were not earning to appear in commercials. Can you imagine the pain a millionaire must feel having to leave more millions on the table to do almost nothing but smile, hold up a product they don’t use, and say a line or two of forgettable ad copy?
For quite a while, there was an easy workaround to this problem: the stars would appear in commercials overseas, that would only air in Japan and never in the U.S., thus preserving the illusion that the stars were above such craven concerns as amassing wealth, while simultaneously allowing them to amass wealth.
All the big movie stars did it. But at some point along the line, maybe because of unfavorable exchange rates or something, all those millions of Yen and Rubles and Euros ceased to be enough for the movie stars. So they found another way to have their cake and eat it too.
I don’t think I have sat through a commercial break in the last few years that didn’t have at least one A-list celebrity doing a voiceover for a commercial. Julia Roberts for Nationwide Insurance. Jon Hamm for Mercedes. Ed Harris for Home Depot. John Krasinski for eSurance. That guy from Entourage for Best Buy. Jeff Bridges, Kevin Bacon, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, John Goodman, Gene Hackman, and even George Clooney are but only a few of the voices I have noticed during commercial breaks, and these are just the ones off the top of my head.
Now, I don’t care if celebrities do commercials, and I care even less if they do commercial voiceovers. I’d just like to point out to whoever’s underwriting these ads that having a movie star read the voiceover copy is distracting to the point of undermining the ad completely.
Because it becomes a game: how quickly can I identify the voice in this commercial? My wife and I have turned it into a contest. (A contest she’s never won and never will because she’s not really interested, but I enjoy it.) You’re still listening, but you’re listening in a different way. You’re listening to the character in the voice, not to what it’s saying.
What I don’t understand is what the perceived advantage is, from the point of view of the advertiser, in using a celebrity voice but not identifying it. Is the idea that the audience will unconsciously trust the familiar voice, even if they don’t place it? I’m sure there are reams of marketing research on this topic but to a layman like myself, it looks like you’re paying ten times as much as you would for some unknown voice whose generic everyvoice would be more effective in getting your message across because the audience wouldn’t be straining to figure out who it is.
Face it, movie stars, the jig is up. You’re whoring out your enormous, bottomless personal integrity and unknowable mystique to sell useless crap no one needs. And that’s fine! Just own it. Show your face. Most of us know it’s you already, and the ones that don’t are missing out on the fascinating details about how it’s never been a better time to lease a a 2014 Mercedes because they’re trying to figure it out.
Or wait! Here’s an idea! You can still do the voiceovers, but use one of those voice-changers like they use for ex-Mobsters that want to participate in Mob documentaries but don’t want to be identified. That way, everyone wins: You get the cash, the advertisers get the prestige of having you in their ads, and the audience gets to fully absorb how much better eSurance is than regular old snail insurance.