MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — By this point in the political season, it often feels like all television watchers see are campaign ads. Most of the time, those commercials include voices over scary or happy pictures.
So, to whom do those voices belong? And, how important are they? Good Question.
A few months ago, Minnesota actor Chris Carlson got a call from a producer he’d worked with in the past. The producer asked him if he would want to dress up as Bigfoot for part of a political commercial. Almost immediately, Carlson said yes.
After a day of shooting in Minneapolis, the ad, which attacks Erik Paulsen, aired online and eventually made its way to television. It was paid for by the Dean Phillips campaign.
It was the first time Carlson had been part of a political ad, but he has done plenty of voiceover work in the past.
“Voicework is really hard, and it’s really subtle and labor intensive,” Carlson said. “I did the math once — a 15-second spot once took an hour and a half.”
Carlson says among his friends who do voiceover work for campaigns, some are partisan and will only work for one party. But others are more like him.
“We’re equal opportunity storytellers to a degree,” he said.
According to people who produce campaign commercials, choosing the right voice is one of the most important decisions for an ad.
“If you’re a male running against a female candidate, you don’t want to have a big blustery male do your voiceover,” said Bill Hillsman, a veteran advertising consultant who created ads for Jesse Ventura and Paul Wellstone.
He also said producers look for consistency in the voice over the campaign so it signals to people that it’s for a particular candidate. Over the years, he’s worked with many different voice talents and generally found he returned to the ones that he knew would be the right fit. He’s heard there’s an unwritten rule that voice talent stick to just one race a season to avoid conflicts.
“It’s a little bit of a skill to be angry and not over the top,” Hillsman said. “The people who can do it and do it really well, you hear them over and over.”
Most of the ads for Minnesota candidates are not produced locally, but rather by a small group of production companies that operate out of Washington, D.C. That means many of the voices Minnesotans are hearing this elections season are likely voiced in booths somewhere else in the country.