There are few things more horrifying in our business than the times we have to work directly with the client. No middleman. No buffer. No net. Mano-e-mano.
At the advertising agency where I work, I basically do all the TV and radio commercials for our automotive dealership accounts. We have tons of them! It is rather inevitable that there will be occasions where the owner, the owner’s son or daughter, wife… whoever nepotism dictates… wants to be in the commercial. In some instances, they’re actually quite good! They’ve done it many times before… they have established some equity in the market with their voice and persona, and it can actually be quite cool to work with them.
This month’s column is not about the good ones. It’s the BAD ones I’m about to pontificate about.
There is truly nothing more frightening in this business than being saddled with a creative situation that you KNOW is not the best it can be. In other words, being forced to do something that you not only disagree with… but also truly HATE! Yet… we all deal with this on a daily basis, and as the saying goes, “it is what it is.”
Car dealers come in all shapes, sizes and attitudes. Some are of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. Some are pricks. Still others kinda fall in-between… they can be nice, but they can also be pricks, or they are very nice pricks. You know, killing you softly with how nice they are in the way they tell you how much you suck and that THEY are the only ones who know what’s going on.
But I digress… heh heh heh…
Okay, so I recently had to do a commercial with the owner of a dealership. Nice guy but very, very controlling, the kind of guy who constantly changes copy and creative direction even after it’s all been co-op approved, storyboarded and gone over ad infinitum, ad nauseam. So this gentleman is scheduled to come to my office and studio to record a voiceover for his TV spot. This man has NO BUSINESS recording a voiceover for his TV spot, or any TV spot or ANYTHING ON GOD’S GREEN EARTH! His voice is horrendous. Grating. He has no idea about inflection, tonality, pace, style, substance, or timing. He is here before me for one reason and one reason only… EGO! He walks into the booth, and from the moment he opens his mouth, I am cringing. How do I make this guy sound good? He can’t even read a sentence with any panache.
Side note: Now, I know that these days you don’t have to have a great voice. In fact, the more you DON’T sound like a typical announcer, the better off you may be in the long run. Does Howard Stern have a GREAT VOICE? Think of how many DJs have terrible voices. So I get the theory that a different sounding voice can actually be a benefit. This guy’s voice does NOT apply to that theory.
So, here I am, stuck with this vocal horror show. He steps in the booth and starts speaking. He is wrong for this spot. He is wrong for this situation. He is wrong, period. But tough titties Dennis… make it work!
I take him sentence by sentence. It is beyond awful. But this guy spends a lot of money, and he wants to be the voice of his own place, so I just have to suck it up. What’s worse is the product is a luxury brand… something that requires class and distinction. What’s even more worse, it is a 30 second TV spot that is so jammed packed with info, he doesn’t even have time to identify himself. You know, “Hi I’m Dirk Dickler, owner of EGO Motors…” so the audience has no point of reference to this horrible voice. It is just THERE. He continues to read… I continue to try and direct him. “Here Dirk, read it like this.” I say the line. He repeats it without doing ANYTHING I asked him to do with his inflection or pace. “No Dirk, like this?” Nada. My engineer is trying not to laugh and he watches me self implode. When he finishes he comes out of the booth to sit with us and listen. I have my engineer edit breaths, time compress, sweeten and salvage. Before we play it back I say, “Dirk, I just want to make sure you’re happy with the read.” The abomination before God is played. He thinks it sounds great. (What else would he think?) He then proceeds to tell me that while he’s there, can he do some pick-up lines for future spots, and can we also write a new pre-owned TV spot so he can cut it while he’s there. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
First off, none of this was scheduled, so I try to tell him as gently as I can that we only booked the studio for his VO. I had no idea he’d be wanting to do a bunch of extra stuff, including, out of the fucking blue, writing a brand new TV spot. I tell him that’s not the way to do things. But I tell him in a way I hope will not offend him. He seems to get it and leaves slightly disgruntled.
THE QUESTION BEFORE US IS: HOW DO WE SURVIVE SUCH A CALAMITY?
What do you do when you’re faced with the same kind of scenario? Well my RAP Pack pals, I am sorry to say that all you can do is what I did… grin and bear it. It is the way of the world. The ones with the money are the ones that dictate policy. Owners are going to do their own commercials. They all think they’re brilliant! Not many have the moxie of say, a Frank Perdue, who knew damn well he sucked and looked like a chicken. He used that to his advantage. But that took years of marketing and exposure, not to mention sticking to a campaign instead of changing things around every time something new needs to be done.
I have many owners who know they are goofy and use that in their commercials. Then, you have guys like Dirk who actually think they’re great and want to do something serious even though the mere sound of his voice is enough to abort 3,000 walrus fetuses from 50 miles away. So, chin up. Knees bent. And take it like you’re paid to. Just try to make the best out of it as you can, and don’t let anyone you know and love be given even a hint that you had anything to do with the “spot.”
This month’s radio commercial is kinda cool because of the theme and who’s in it. It’s old so the sound quality isn’t the best, but it will do. Growing up, I loved THE GODFATHER. Any Italian gangster film was okay by me. I have written MANY spots that feature gangsters and the like, but this one was always my favorite. When I worked at WBAB 200 years ago, I worked with a gentleman named Marc Coppola. Marc went on to huge fame as a NYC DJ. He is Nicholas Cage’s brother, and Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew. I mean… how cool is that? I play the mobsters in the spot (including my Brando impression) and Marc plays the wimpy guy. I like the spot because it gives the characters time to establish themselves… its not rushed… and all the information they wanted is in it. This just harkens back to what I always say about doing spots based on the things you love.