Absenteeism, Debt, and Other Not-So-Friendly Products I Represent…

I could very well be the voice that parents most dread. What was — at one time — the job of school receptionists is now automated (as are a lot of tasks which used to be human chores); I was hired to voice an automated system which automatically dials all parents and guardians of kids who miss/skip class and informs the parents that their offspring are out in the free world, pursuing other interests. The call is generated by bar-coded swipe cards at the school entrance — when a student doesn’t swipe, the call is placed. It’s a great way for parents to nip the problem of a no-show student in the bud before it becomes a chronic problem, but I kept thinking — as I voiced the appropriately serious prompts — that mine is the voice that parents are going to dread hearing. Or, I envision being encircled by disgruntled school kids ready to lynch me.

I *really* started to get a serious pit in my stomach when I voiced the first of many automated bill-collection platforms — calls which (at first, gently) remind the recipient of the call that their credit card bill is past due, and then the messages escalate somewhat in seriousness — I’m never a thug or even close to Tony Soprano on a “collect”, by any means. The messages merely build in urgency and seriousness with the number of messages you get, and in the second or third message, phrases like: “Our legal department sees this violation of your contract with the credit card company as theft, and will prosecute as such..” are brought out for effect.

How I’d hate to get that call! Even as professional, business-like, and non-menacing as the messages are, I still know that my voice will not be the favorite of the thousands who get those messages a week….even when encountered later on while listening  to other systems, the sound of my voice might evoke a negative feeling further down the road. Voice talent are human and still have that innate desire to be liked — and when I’m voicing the IVR for a hotel, luxury brand, or well-known product or company, it’s a great motivator knowing that my voice imprint is actually tying itself into the product — and if you’ve been voicing for the product for a while, your voice really does become part of the product. I once voiced an autodialer which called entire districts at a time to inform them that a registered sex offender will be moving into their neighborhood — while important and purposeful, it was a project which gave me the wim-wams to voice (to use the technical term) and serves as another instance where my voiceprint is loaned to a not-so-positive project — and may create a negative perception of my voice.

And so it is with these so-called “negative” or “serious” products — they’re necessary (and great contracts to have!), but the residual after-effect they leave is of concern to voice talent. Peter Thomas, the brilliant narrator of the “Medical Detectives” series on Discovery Channel, also does some TV commercial voice-over work — and even when I hear him voicing spots about life insurance or mortgages, I half-expect him to launch into explanations about blood-spatter theory or Luminol tests; so strongly in my mind is his voice linked to forensics. (I also know of a voice talent whose career was all but ruined by voicing spots for years for a certain well-known rectal-itch remedy….a tough thing to be well-known for, and a hard association to shake. “We’d love to use you in the car commercial, but we just hear…..hemmorhoids.”)

Even necessary but stern IVR prompts such as “You have no funds available in this account” or “You have been blocked from this conference” — even delivered without judgement or commentary — still will elicit a negative reaction from the caller — one that most voice talent see as a necessary evil, but an “evil” nonetheless.

Next week: I’ll blog about the unlikely connection between voice-over and the medical/pharmaceutical industry — it’s a significant link, and profitable — if you’re not easily scared away by terminology — or gore.

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