The Commercial Conundrum

I’ve mentioned before how much I loathe commercials.  I find them annoying at best, and insulting (to people’s intelligence) at worst.  So I tend to mute them whenever they come on.

The problem with my enormous disdain for commercials is that one of my career goals is to be a voice over (VO) actor.  There are so many places for me to use my vocal talents (cartoons, video games, audio books) that I’m positive I could make a decent career out of it without selling my soul, but the general belief is that commercials are where the money is.  This is probably a true statement, because national ads run EVERYWHERE nowadays, and you usually get nice, fat residual checks for doing commercial work.

However, there are also quite a few voice actors who have made a nice little life for themselves, simply by providing character voices for cartoons or video games.  I know you all know Mel Blanc as the voice of Bugs Bunny (along with nearly every other Warner Brothers character), and Seth McFarlane does multiple voices for three current cartoon shows, but there are also some women who have had very successful careers with their voices . . .

June Foray, for example, has made an AMAZING life out of doing voice work for cartoons for over 60 years!  Any female voice you hear in the above-mentioned Warner Brothers cartoons?  That’s June.  She was also the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel, Natasha Fatale and several others on The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.  Or simply peruse her IMDB profile, and I guarantee you’ll find at least one of her characters that you know and love.  I’ll take a career like that, thank you, very much.

Or how about Tress MacNeille?  I first heard of her with The Animaniacs show, which was one of my favorites for a while, but she’s got over 200 titles to her credit, and she’s still got probably another 30 years or so worth of VO work ahead of her.

The owner of my VO school seems to think I’d be able to make a nice career out of ad work, because she says I have that great next door neighbor kind of voice that can be warm or funny, depending on what the script needs.  It means a lot to me that she thinks I’m that versatile, but I have my qualms about pursuing commercial work.  I just don’t think I’d be able to respect myself if I booked a gig where I essentially shove a product down people’s throats, or upsell (read “lie about”) what the product can offer.

You know the commercials I’m talking about . . . they’re the ones where a woman talks about how stressed her life is, but it all disappears away after she has that iced cappuccino, or snack bar, or cola.  (There are similar commercials for men, I’m sure, but I’m going to focus on the ones I’d actually be able to book)

Now, I don’t know about you, but I certainly know that no candy bar, or sugary drink, or whatever is going to make my life less stressful.  If anything, it’ll make it more stressful, because, over time, I’ll become so addicted to reaching for a snack to deal with my stress that I’ll become a stress eater.  Which I’ll then stress about after I gain all the extra weight from eating their “relaxing” products at the tough times in my life!

Or how about the ads where you consume something, and it’s supposed to alter your surroundings?  No, biting into a little chocolate-covered soft peppermint candy does NOT make me feel like I’m skiing in the Alps.  Nor do the heavens open up and rain down little colorful candy pellets whenever I start eating same candy pellets.  I realize both examples are supposed to be a metaphorical representation of how it feels to eat their product, but come on.  Does anyone actually think anything past “mmmmm” when they eat something like that?

But I digress.  I realize that many of the people who do VO for the ads I’ve mentioned above probably don’t “believe” in the message they’ve recorded, either.  They’re probably able to just sit there and think “Eh, it’s just words.” and collect their nice paycheck(s).  More power to them.  I just don’t want to be one of those people.

So, next time I take a class with the owner of my VO school, I’m going to ask for more narration, video game or cartoon scripts instead.  Hopefully, she’ll see how well I do with those, as opposed to the commercials she’s given me in the past.  When I do work on commercials with her, I do a passable job, but even I can hear they lack that OOMPH that would make my recording of the ad bookable.  I’ve no doubt it’s because I don’t believe or agree with the words written on the page, and therefore, I’m unable to put aside my beliefs, ego, or whathaveyou well enough to be able to act like I DO believe what I’m “selling.”

I’m sure there will be a few commercials I’ll do without feeling like I’ve sold my soul, but I’d much rather have more video games, cartoons and audio books on my resume, thank you very much.  And who knows, maybe someone down the road will look at my IMDB profile and celebrate my long VO career.

Here’s hoping.


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