I’m (Apparently) Too Sexy for This IVR

A few years ago, I voiced an interesting project for Kodak: a self-serve photo development kiosk where photographers could process their own film by simply walking up to a kiosk, installing their film, and controlling the processing of their photos in a very turnkey way. I was actually hired by a sound studio in Australia do voice the “North American-Sounding Female” version — the idea (especially in retrospect) became antiquated pretty fast with the advent of digital picture-taking making direct-to-film photography all but obsolete to all but a few hobbyists. Nevertheless, the project went forward, and with the studio being happy with the sound files and the invoice paid, I didn’t think too much about the project — the product hit the stores, and it promised to be a huge time-saving (and more private) way of having photos developed — however short-lived.

 A couple of months after the kiosks were up and running, the sound studio sent a very carefully-worded e-mail to me: in the sound files I submitted, I was sounding too…sultry. Breathy, languid, kitten-with-a-whip. Further to that point, marketing researchers from Kodak were tracking the film processing stats closely; male customers were coming in droves with their rolls of film, agreeably following all of my prompts, and leaving generally contented. Women, on the other hand, were beginning the process, but soon cancelling out of the system and leaving the stores with their arms crossed and scowls on their faces. The feedback that Kodak got: I was sounding just a little too….suggestive.

I had to be honest with myself, and acknowledge that I had actually gotten that feedback from *other* clients on occasion, ever since I started voicing professionally. It’s not anything I meant to send out; it wasn’t a deliberate “device” on my part — it was a certain bubbly “friendliness” that was coming across unintentionally as, well….come hither. Regardless as to whether or not it was deliberate, it soon to became clear that the “breathy”, somewhat heady treatment of sound files I was doing wasn’t going to fly — unless specifically called for. Redos were done in a more businesslike-yet-friendly tone, which proved to be much more accessible to consumers of both genders.

One must realise that  — even honoring the time-tested truism of advertising that “sex sells”, we must always keep our audience in mind, and that at least half of that income-earning and decision-making audience is female. I needed acknowledge that the tone and approach of sound files — be it for telephone systems, streaming audio on websites, or even advertising — must appeal to both genders, and that an overly-sensual female voice will invariably alienate women — and no doubt the converse would be true, with men tuning out a male voice who is trying too hard to suavely win over the women.

I’m definitely asked to put on a provocative tone for the occasional customer — the IVR for the makers of the Ferrari Art Engine comes to mind, where “the more languid the better” was the direction I got; there are other clients — such as the one who hired me to voice the IVR for the US Prison System — who urged me to avoid at all costs anything even close to an inviting tone. Otherwise, a friendly, professional, non-threatening, accessible tone almost always seems to work for most projects — and keeps me out of trouble.

Next blog: I’ll discuss my favorite types of clients…those clients which do everything right and make my job a pleasure!

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1 Comment »

  1. I didn’t realize that “kitten with a whip” was one of the options for the feeling that I could get in my recordings. Duly noted for my next order.


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