Paid to Persuade

The trivia question for this week is, which 1969 rock song talked about the difference between a politician’s son and one who is not so privileged?

You might have noticed it’s an election year, with local elections from the smallest villages to major cities and statewide elections from governor to congress, and this year we will welcome a new leader of our country into the Oval Office. For the first time in 8 years, someone else will be in the big house on Pennsylvania Avenue making decisions that will affect all of us in one way or another.

There is one thing that all of the folks running for anything from animal control officer to the president have in common, and that is paid advertising. It’s impossible to watch 30 minutes of television without hearing some very sincere voice telling us how good one person is and how bad another is, and all of these announcements end with the equivalent of “I’m Daffy Doodle and I approved this ad.” Well, of course you did, and you paid that very sincere voice to do it.

As many of you know, I spent my life in broadcasting, not doing facts-and-figures news but music and entertainment, a world of make believe. At some of the radio stations I worked at, I was also a production director in addition to doing my air shift. The job of a production director is to take written copy and turn it into 30 or 60 seconds of recorded brilliance that makes the listener want to drop everything and run out and buy whatever it is the advertiser wants to sell. This is done in a number of ways—with music and sound effects but most importantly with that sincere, trust me, would-I-lie-to-you voice. I have done ads for places I have never been and made them sound like my home away from home.

Voice acting is a world of make believe all its own and in many ways much more difficult than stage or screen acting. With voice acting, you do not have the ability to use body movements or facial expressions. It’s all done with the voice. In today’s whacked out world of advertising, it’s also not unusual to hear a well-known actor’s voice selling you something. The magnificent voice of James Earl Jones is a classic example. However, the majority of those wow-do-they-sound-so-sincere political ads are done by only a few dozen voice-over artists, both in high-profile races as well as the ones you’ve never heard of. In August 2008, Newsweek reported on this in an article called “How Voice Actors Are Chosen for Political Ads.” Some of these voice actors do only ads for politicians or issues they believe in. For more than 30 years, Sheldon Smith has been one of the leading voices of Republican political advertising.  Smith admits that this doesn’t mean every word he speaks into the microphone has to be true, but he says he won’t knowingly perpetuate lies. “I’ve walked away before. If it gives me qualms, I won’t do it.” On the other hand, other political voice artists put personal politics aside, differentiating blue and red candidates by who’s got more green to pay.

The next time you hear that so sincere voice telling you what a slime ball so-and-so is or how great what’s-their-name is and how bad one issue might be for you as opposed to how happy another issue will make you, ask yourself this: how much is this person being paid to tug at your heart strings, and while they are telling you how great one candidate is, are they really going to vote for them?

In the podcast, there will be more on something, although as you know I never know what until I get there, but there will be rock and roll news and history and the answer to the trivia question. I hope you’ll join me on the shores of Rambling Harbor.

Advertisements