Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cynicism, Big Name Actors, and Corporations

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One thing that has puzzled me for years, and it's a minor thing, true, entirely of no consequence in this world, is that many major corporations hire big name Hollywood performers to do voice-over work for their commercials.

Listen closely. Gene Hackman does Lowes, for example. And I've recognized the voices of Donald Sutherland, Matthew McConaughey, and Morgan Freeman. In fact, it is difficult not to live through a day of television or radio and not hear Morgan Freeman's voice.

I had a passing acquaintance with a radio personality who has had some success in the business. I asked him, Why the bucks for celebrities when they are not identified? It's understandable when Sam Waterson or Tommie Lee Jones appear on camera and act as if the financial service they are touting will solve all your monetary problems if you just trust them. Admirers of those actors might be swayed. Not me. Not you, maybe. But at least the corporation is attaching its image to whatever cachet that actor might have.

Not so with voice work. It's necessary to listen closely, and know you need to listen closely, to pick out the voices of famous-namers doing voice-over work. And it takes a good ear.

Now to the cynicism: given the assumption that these big names are not going to shill for only a few shekels, I am beginning to wonder if more than a "voice" is being purchased. After all, how many casual listeners are, first, going to connect Gene Hackman with Lowes, and, second, how many are going to rush to buy hammer and nails at Lowes because they have admired his work in films?

Is it possible that the executive staff and board of directors are using stockholder money to buy Joe Actor's time not only for voice-over work but also for his appearance at golf outings and other corporate social functions? Are the bucks being laid out simply so some business geek can take a break from exporting jobs to China and have lunch with the star of No Country for Old Men?

Entirely too cynical, that supposition, I know, but I also know that most Joe Actors have a voice--okay, there's one exception: James Earl Jones--no better than that of a fellow I worked with thirty years ago at a small town radio station.

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