Celebrity Voice Overs – More Than Just A Pretty Face

Let’s be honest here, people. In the thirty some odd minutes you’ll actually admit to watching TV each day (this is discounting all those hours in front of the tube telling yourself you have other things to do), you’ll soak in more from the commercials than any intentional programming. As a result, corporations are careful with their ads. We’re not talking the Super Bowl spectacles, but those little fillers between Seinfeld reruns and SVU — the ones that seep in and stay in, branding themselves to your brain just as planned. The key to seeping in: The celebrity voice over. You recognize the voice — not enough to associate an actor with the product — but enough that you gain the sense of comfort that comes with experience: You’ve heard this person before, and thus you can trust them (and whatever they’re selling). So without further ado, a compilation of our favorite voice overs, past and present.

Jon Hamm for Mercedes-Benz
I was admittedly startled when I first heard Don Draper touting the latest Mercedes-Benz model, especially considering his stunning 1962 Cadillac de Ville on “Mad Men.” But it’s harder to get hotter than Jon Hamm right now, which is precisely the bold move needed when replacing Richard “John-Boy” Thomas after years of service selling your luxury vehicles. He sounds confident, poised and perhaps a bit cocky, which is exactly why he makes the big bucks for Sterling Cooper. What better choice for your own ad campaign?

John Corbett for Applebee’s’s
There is nothing to say for Applebee’s. It is a cheap imitation of Friday’s, which is a cheap imitation of a steak house; its employment of a waitstaff only makes it slowly served fast food. Yet there’s John Corbett, formerly the favorite voice on “Northern Exposure” and meat to Ms. Bradshaw’s Mr. Big sandwich, dishing out the daily deals at your friendly neighborhood bar and grill. The restaurant seems no more enticing, but with that distinct baritone and the sheer frequency of the ads, it’s at least harder to forget.

Jeff Bridges for Hyundai
It doesn’t seem appropriate to pair Jeff Bridges with Hyundai, only a step above Kia for peeon of the motor vehicle food chain. We may always think of The Dude as lazy, but now he has an Oscar, which means he should at least be at Honda level (which is ably handled by one Kevin Spacey). His work with Duracell is more fulfilling in that he adds that nice touch of sentimentality when the company tries to present its batteries as the stuff of miracles, but the reality of Hyundai sets in and you are suddenly left to think: Voice overs are truly pitiful.

Billy Crudup for Mastercard
MasterCard certainly struck gold with Billy Crudup. Blessed with a beautiful face, his voice is every ounce as pretty, serving as the perfect backdrop for a campaign that has come to define the company. You may not immediately be able to place him, though his ending monologue in “Big Fish” is every bit as poignant as the “priceless” we’ve come to know and love. Whether they keep it light or go for the gut punch and get all sentimental, Crudup never misses a note, sinking perfectly into your subconscious as a proper voice over should.

Gene Hackman for Lowe’s Hardware
Gene Hackman is of the golden age of voice overs. He’s been around long enough as an actor that you’d know his voice anywhere, and the cynicism that seems to seep through with age adds a necessary buffer to the brands he is backing. He is too well known to wholly represent any one client, but you like that you can shout him out instantly when you hear him. He is consistent, comforting and every bit the man of mirth his voice makes him out to be. Unfortunately for Lowe’s Hardware, they were up against an unbeatable competitor.

Ed Harris for Home Depot
It’s interesting that Ed Harris ended up as the voice of Home Depot, as he is the only one qualified enough to be considered an adversary of Hackman’s. Too bad for Gene, Harris easily takes the cake. It’s that raspy, brooding quality applied to the go-getter campaign of the Home Depot that makes it so effective; the solemn tone as muse for gardening and carpentry failing in every respect expect pure servitude. Ed Harris called us to action, so to that orange meca we must go, shovels in hand, memories of The Truman Show remaining deep within our hearts.

James Sloyan for Lexus
This is James Sloyan, dressed as the character he played in “Deep Space Nine.” You would not recognize him otherwise, as his long career has consisted mainly of one episode roles on many of television’s longest running shows (“Matlock,” “MacGyver,” “Baywatch,” etc.). He is a veritable legend in the realm of voice overs, however, providing the vocals for Lexus since 1989. Who could forget that calm, reassuring tone, always accompanied by a big red ribbon at Christmas and shaping the brand in its own right? Too bad he’s just been replaced by James Remar, a man with an equally distinct voice and thus spelling disaster for the company (who, as a subsidiary of Toyota, seems to be making an utterly foolish move with the timing of the switch).

James Earl Jones for Bell Atlantic
One of the most iconic voices in television history belongs to the man who played Luke Skywalker’s father, James Earl Jones. As Darth Vader, his deep voice was foreboding and evil, but once he took off the helmet, it was selling us everything from telephone service to CNN to the Ohio lottery. At this point in our collective conscious, Jones’ voice is more or less the smooth, soothing sound of consumerism itself. I mean, who’s going to turn down Bell Atlantic when it sounds like Mufasa?

Zach Braf for Cottonelle
Zach Braf is best known for two roles: the awkward, endearing J.D. on the now ill-fated Scrubs, and Andrew in Garden State, who is more or less the same character as J.D. Braf does his thing well, but he doesn’t do much else. So it’s hard to imagine anyone better suited to voice Cottonelle’s labrador puppy. Braf makes a great puppy: He’s cute, he talks to himself, and he’s not afraid to get down with his feminine side.

Patrick Dempsey for Mazda
I guess if Jon Hamm is doing Mercedes-Benz commercials, it makes perfect sense that Patrick Dempsey did the voice overs for those Mazda spots. A celebrity and his car commercial should be like a dog-owner and his pup: The classy, talented guys should voice the luxury spots, and the B list, star-of-a-nighttime-soap-opera guys should do the wanna-be luxury brands.