Battle of the Sexes?
The question comes up often. Should we use a man or a woman’s voice when making a video? The answer isn’t cut and dry – one sex is not universally better or more effective than the other.
Are there any guidelines regarding what sex of voice to choose for video? Let’s start by looking at the (limited) research that exists.
Choose Female When Marketing Female-Only Products
A study published in The Journal of Advertising examined the implication of using male and female voices in commercials. It was found that the sex of the voiceover didn’t matter for products that were either gender neutral or geared toward men. But the sex of the voiceover mattered greatly when it came to female-oriented products. Conclusion: Want to sell or market female-oriented products and services to women? Use a female voice.
Stuck in a Gender Stereotype?
Is your product or service stuck in a gender role rut that you need to break out of? Switch up the sex of the voice in your video to help. For example, if you have a product or service that is traditionally viewed as feminine and you want to change that portrayal to masculine, select a male voice or vice versa. We’re seeing this with male voices being chosen for makeup campaigns and female voices for DIY home renovation campaigns.
Use Female Voices to Build Trust
A small study out of the University of Glasgow finds female voices are typically considered gentler, less aggressive and more relaxed, allowing an audience to receive the message more willingly and with that, be perceived as more trustworthy.
In the same study, researcher Phil McAleer found that listeners deemed the lowest-pitched male voices the least trustworthy while female and higher pitched voices were perceived as the most trustworthy. Caveat: inflection is important. The most trusted female voices were those that dropped their voice at the end of the phrase. A degree of certainty may then be key to instilling trust in listeners. Conclusion: Want to instill a feeling of trust? Choose a confident female voice.
Moving Beyond What the Limited Research Suggests
Maybe your brand is gender neutral or the research results don’t feel particularly conclusive or compelling enough for you. Here are some other important factors to consider when choosing a voiceover.
Don’t worry too much about what sex of voice to choose until you know what tone you desire. Be clear about the personality of voice you want. That’s what’s most important. Decide: serious or funny? Youthful or mature? Professional or casual? Lively or calming? Entertaining or understated? Quirky or conventional? Trustworthy or slick? Persuasive or passive? There will be voices of both sexes that can achieve the tone desired.
A funeral home, financial institution and rent-a-clown business will all have very different tones in their videos. Deciding male or female voice wouldn’t likely be the starting point for casting these voices. Getting the tone right would.
If your video is for a particular region, e.g., the Southern US or North of Ireland, then your voiceover artist’s accent should match that of your audience.
If you’re marketing to a more global audience, then you can consider a number of accents. Think about what those accents imply. British accents are often considered formal, educated, and impressive. American accents can feel lively, energetic and fun.
Listen to Both Male and Female Voices Before You Decide
If time and budget allow, listen to a sampling of voices in both sexes. You may happen upon a voice, who, regardless of sex, personifies your offering and what you hope to achieve. Other times you may find a voice you gravitate towards but the voice artist needs coaching to bring the delivery and tone to exactly where you want it to be. Gender ends up as only one of a number of criterion for voice selection.
Because the research regarding which sex of voice is best for video is hardly conclusive or comprehensive, consider split testing. Produce two versions of your video. One with a male voice and one female voice and see which converts better. Let the results speak for themselves.
Final Thoughts on Choosing a Voice
There is no universally accepted, preferred or better sex of voice. What’s more important is understanding whether your product or service is gender-oriented or whether you want to change the audience’s perception. No matter what, be sure to connect whatever voice you select to the tone, and emotion you want to evoke in your video.