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  • Writer's pictureMoira Tait

Why Accents Matter with Voiceovers

If you’ve arrived at this article, you’re probably thinking about whether to use a voice over artist to promote your product or service, or to represent your business in a training course or company voicemail message. You can spend days listening to hundreds of voice over artists which can become overwhelming and can make you only more confused as to who to choose. There is no one particular method of narrowing down your choice, but one way is to think about which accent to choose.

British Union Jack with Voice Over accents

Accent-uate the Positive

I’ve discussed whether to choose a male or female in an earlier blog article, so once you’ve decided upon the gender of your voice artist and you’ve written the script, the next question to consider is which accent should they speak in. You may not have considered whether an accent can affect the perception of your brand, product or service, but all the research suggests it does and a lot.

Psychologists at the Friedrich Schiller University found out that the accent someone talks in plays a crucial role in the way we judge this person. When you talk to someone on the phone, you can interpret a lot about them based on their tone, accent or dialect which begins to trigger judgement and bias. As the voice artist is representing your company and what you are offering, any bias will most likely be transferred to your product, service or company.

However, if your content is targeted at a local audience then choosing someone with the same accent as your audience makes sense, as the evidence shows you are more likely to trust someone who sounds like you.

Let’s say you are promoting the Yorkshire Museum to potential visitors from that city, so it’s understandable you’d employ a Yorkshire voice artist. But what if you want to include a wider target audience, say the whole of the North of England? If you’re more likely to believe someone with the same accent as yourself, then it follows that you are less likely to believe someone with a different accent. One way to overcome this, and which is bread and butter to a voice artist, is for the narrator to speak in a confident tone of voice, which apparently overcomes the trust issues associated with a different accent.

Accents Give Messages

A crucial component of a voice over, whether you are selling a product, explaining how something works, or narrating a documentary is that the voice must make a connection with the audience, whether that be inspiring confidence, creating trust or making an impact. A 2013 poll conducted in the UK by ComRes, asked a total of 4,000 Britons to rate accents in terms of trustworthiness. The Received Pronunciation and Devon accent were perceived as the most trustworthy by 51% of the respondents, with the Liverpool accent as the least trustworthy. Similarly, the Liverpudlian accent was perceived to be the least intelligent, whilst the Received Pronunciation accent was considered the most intelligent by 62% of the respondents.

But it depends on the age of your audience as to which accent is found most attractive. A YouGov poll found that if you’ve over 60, you’ll perceive the Devon accent the most attractive, but only 22% of 18-24 year olds like it: they much prefer a Northern Irish accent.

So it starts to become more complicated, with not only having to about which emotion or feeling you want to project, but also the gender, age and geographical location of your target audience.

British or American?

At least its more straightforward when your audience is from one country surely? Well not so. Two of the most common accents in the world are American and British, and as we’ve said above, it appears self-evident you should use the same accent as your target audience. However, a fascinating test was conducted by Tom Breeze, a YouTube Advertising expert. He posted four ads on YouTube, but each had a version voiced with British accent and another version of the same advert with an American accent. The results revealed that on average, UK accents saw a 34.13% increase in click through rates over a US accent. But unexpectedly, the preference for a British accent held up even when the audience was American.

British voice accents vs American Accents

In each of these videos, the British accent was RP or Received Pronunciation. (This term, however, is not accurate as very few people speak the Queen’s English nowadays. What people mean by RP is an accent most likely found in Southern England and London. But for shorthand let’s stick with it.) The experiment didn’t answer why more people, including Americans, clicked through more frequently, but it may be due to the trustworthiness factor or that 33% of Americans find the British accent attractive.

What if your Audience is Global?

I am often asked to voice eLearning modules for companies who have a global reach. Several of these clients have said that a British voice is more understandable by their non-native English-speaking staff. It’s a no brainer that if you’re rolling out a training course across several countries, its crucial it is understood by the most people.

Certainly, the British accent is the most liked by non-native speakers. Babbel, the language learning app in collaboration with Manchester University, conducted the largest ever global study of perceptions of accents. Results showed that British is the most likeable accent globally, with 45% of respondents stating they enjoy hearing their native language spoken with a British accent. Interestingly, Poland is the only country where a British accent isn’t the most popular accent - in Poland, the American accent is most popular.

Similarly, a study by The University of Hong Kong on the accent perception of a group of non-native EFL teachers, showed that participants preferred the accent from the United Kingdom. When rated by other countries, British accents are most likely to be described as “sophisticated” (32%), “stylish” (30%) and “professional” (29%). So, if you’re selling a Mercedes car or Faberge watch to the ASEAN market, a British accent would add that sophisticated and aspirational feel to the brand.

People prefer a British voice accent

But what if you are sharing an induction training course, for example, with new staff in another country? Which accent is the most intelligible? This aspect is probably the most important factor in deciding on which voice over to use if you have a global audience or your listeners do not have English as their first language. There’s been many studies with non-native speakers and English accents, and most conclude that General American and Southern English accents are viewed as more understandable by non-native speakers, (probably because these accents are most frequently heard in the media). Whilst some nationalities found English spoken with their native accent more understandable, using a voiceover from that country but speaking English, makes sense, but this will not be as effective if the voiceover has to inform or educate across several countries or nationalities. And when comparing the intelligibility between US and UK accents, there seems little difference, although one study by UCL demonstrated that a group of Mandarin speakers found British English more intelligible than General American.

There are disadvantages and advantages to choosing certain accents to voice your project, and without thinking carefully about not only who you and your company are, what you want to convey and who you are aiming your message at, you could end up alienating your audience by mistake! What’s crucial though, is that the voice artist sounds authentic and makes an emotional connection with your target audience. You can always ask a voice actor to do a custom audition of your script.

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