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What's Wrong With a Woman's Voice?

date.png 2016-03-08      |     Tagged:  advertising   female voices   international womens day   one air  

When this little Red Apple’r started work in radio advertising, it was as part of a local station, creating adverts for local and regional clients.

The complete on-air line up at the station was pretty identical to a lot of local stations at the time. Male lead with a female co-host on breakfast, followed by a series of male presenters only.
This onslaught of male presentation was only interrupted at the weekends when a female was brought back on air for the middle of the day, presumably to capture some of the family shopping time.

We were advised at the time that the ABC1 Housewives (now referred to more solicitously as ‘Main-shoppers’) made 85% of the purchasing decisions of the home.

So it made sense to appeal to women greatly, our station had a celebrated female skew, the advertiser’s products targeted the family age homeowner, the playlist featured swathes of female artists – so where were all the women on-air?

I was reliably informed that men and women equally, respond positively to male presenters and voice over artists, but that they respond less positively to female presenters and voiceover artists, with men particularly switching off the female voice.

Whilst there’s an obvious Alf Garnett style gag in there, I wondered if there was any truth in this.

US Doctor and public speaker, Lara Devgan shares her thoughts and findings on the problem with the way women speak in her blog at 'The Doctor Weighs In' .  However, trained and experienced orators and voice artists rarely fall foul of the ‘upspeak’ or ‘vocal fry’ which she describes. 

Devgan’s findings concurred with the responses I received from my colleagues and clients, ranging from the shrill nature of women’s voices to their lack of credibility when trying to deliver authoritative reads commercially. Common adjectives like “girly”, “whiney”, “too high pitched” were bandied about. 

However, none of these objections occurred to the same people who were seduced into buying ‘melt in the middle’ chocolate puddings from M&S when Dervla Kirwan seduced us into purchasing these sweet treats – perhaps a male voiceover with the same note of seduction would have been perceived as aural assault, or simply disingenuous (what would a man know of chocolate desserts?) 

It all sounded a little like the small town was scared of women.

Fast forward a few years and has very much changed?

Well radio stations are employing more female talent on air. That said, there is still a lot of co-hosting and tucked away slots rather than single female leads. The new Virgin Radio station, due to launch at the end of the month, is set to lead with Edith Bowman on breakfast and Kate Lawler on drive – it’s heartening to see a line-up of strong female presenters in the key shows with the accompaniment of a male name to support them! 

For voiceovers, we will still fight with clients who believe that their product should have the voice of a male, even if the consumer is female. Or conversely, the traditionally ‘female’ bought products, such as nappies and washing powder, that can’t be voiced by a male.

Where I once believed this to be ‘small town’ thinking, turns out in fact to be common place perception.

International Women’s Day is a great time to remember the achievements and success of women from history and today.  Here’s hoping that we catch up with history and stop having to justify a female voice over a male voice for ‘credibility’ purposes.