The Future's Bright for Female Voiceovers
A voice over is a common element these days on commercials, explainer videos, in e-learning, in documentaries, on voicemails, and much more besides. As video is proving more and more crucial for companies in 2020, the next question after deciding you need a voice over for your project is whether to choose a female or male voice.
You may think the answer is obvious; when we think of a particular product, we can all immediately recall a commercial where the voice is male or female. That car advert with a deep, smooth baritone or the bright voice of a woman describing the benefits of the washing powder!
There has been much research on this topic over the years and the latest evidence shows a continuing growing trend towards the preference for consumers to hear a female voice. Here’s the reasons why.
Women Prefer a Female Voice
People listen and trust the opinions of people like them, so it makes sense to use a voice to promote a brand, product or service who is the same as the purchaser or user. An analysis by Westward One of nearly 100 radio ads, for example, showed that women rated female-voiced ads better for favourability, brand recall, relevance, memorability, and engagement than male-voiced adverts.
Similarly, in another study of voices, this time on explainer videos, viewers trusted the videos with female narration significantly more than the videos with male narration, and overwhelmingly preferred the professional female voice-over.
This supports the work done by Glasgow University’s Phil McAleer using just the word “Hello” recorded by 64 different voices and listened to by 320 different people. The results showed that female voices were more trustworthy than male voices, as high-pitched voices were seen as more trustworthy compared to low-pitched voices because high-pitched voices hint at confidence. The lowest-pitched voices of the males were the least trustworthy.
Men Prefer Female Voices .. Most of The Time!
When is comes to men’s preferences as to who they like to listen to, the picture is
slightly more complex. A Harris Interactive poll found over half of men believe a female voice is more soothing, compared to 38% of women who say the same. Soothing voices can make people feel comfortable, and when people feel comfortable, they’re more inclined to trust. However, in terms of a voice’s persuasiveness, men found little difference between male and female voices. One area which showed a marked difference, however, was that 51% of men thought a male voice was more forceful.
This may be useful for emergency announcements, but when you are selecting the best product or service, do you want to be commanded to buy it? People like to feel they have some control over their decision making.
As professor Clifford Nass, wrote in Wired for Speech, people tend to perceive female voices as helping us solve our problems by ourselves, while they view male voices as authority figures who tell us the answers to our problems. It’s no wonder Siri, Cortana and Alexa are female. We want our technology to help us, but we want to be the bosses of it, so we are more likely to opt for a female interface.
Millennials Prefer Female Voices Too
The people born between 1981 and 1996, who are currently in their 20’s and 30’s make up 25% of the global population and are projected to spend globally, $1.4 trillion on shopping in 2020. This is a huge demographic, particularly when they are purchasing via online platforms, video, and mobile apps or using services to improve their health or the environment. In a world where conversational commerce is set to proliferate, it’s imperative for brands to understand the true impact elicited by different voices.
This prompted a major study of consumers’ subconscious reactions to digitised voices and which revealed a significant bias towards female voices in people under 35 years of age. Using brain imaging technology by neuroscience research firm, Neuro-Insight, they discovered that both female and males under the age of 35 found a digitised female voice more approachable and compelling than a male one. Analysing the brain responses of 105 subjects between the ages of 18 and 65, found that the subjects of all ages and genders thought that female voices more approachable by 32%. For the younger subjects, they found a female voice twice as approachable (+103%) than a male voice.
And its not just approachability that’s important in communication; marketing has long recognised the importance of compelling content as it engages people, which leads to more subscribers, more leads and more sales. The same research showed that younger subjects found the female voice more compelling (22% higher) compared to older respondents who found the male voice more compelling (25% higher).
What Voice Should you Choose?
If you are trying to sell a product or service, the latest figures on who is buying what offers up some interesting insights. It seems that women are the decision makers in households when it comes to buying products.
In 2009, the consulting firm A T Kearney, estimated that women in the US drove 70-80% of all consumer purchasing through a combination of buying power and influence. By 2017, this had risen to where women accounted for 85% of all consumer purchases in the US.
This is because women don’t just buy for themselves; they also make purchasing decisions for their family and their household. And whilst women impact over 90% of purchases for vacations, new homes, food and grocery and medications, what may be surprising is that what has traditionally been thought of as male purchases are now being bought by more women.
For example, in the US, 65% of new cars and 66% of computers are being purchased by women. Maybe it’s time to rethink the gender stereotypes in marketing if you want to attract the largest audience?
Already many advertisers are subverting the use of a particular gender for traditionally gendered products to great effect. Volkswagen’s choice of a female voiceover in 2019 was a explained as being part of creating a recognisable personality.
Ellen DeGeneres was used on an advert for fibre-powered networks, and I recently voiced a project for a global satellite company. And advertisers are moving in the other direction too as male voices are being used for female products such as using Harry Styles on a recent Gucci perfume ad. This is one way to make your audience sit up and take note.
Before making a choice of a female or male voice, its crucial to consider your project requirements. Whilst studies and trends are important and useful, you should always look closely at your product or service, industry, and target audience before making your choice of voice-over talent.
You should also consider if your brand is traditional and conservative, or fine with taking creative licence. Does your company enjoy breaking the rules, or do you want to stick with tradition as your audience knows what to expect from you?
Whether it’s an audiobook, an explainer video, a commercial or an e-learning module, most important of all is the quality, characteristics and delivery of the voice and how it complements, authenticates and enriches your product or service. And if you are not sure, you can always ask a voice artist for a custom read to test out a range of different voices.
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