Brands with unique, consistent, high-quality synthetic voices in their products and communications can sound like science fiction. But John Campbell, managing director of vocal experience agency Rabbit & Pork (part of the Tipi Group), tells us they’re already here — and we’re only at the start of a boom in the industry. synthetic audio. For The Drum’s Audio Deep Dive, he explains how brands can intervene.
What do Top Gun: Maverick, The Andy Warhol Diaries and The Book of Boba Fett have in common?
They all feature synthetic voice actors – Val Kilmer in Top Gun, Andy Warhol and a younger Mark Hamill in The Book of Boba Fett.
How can brands make the most of synthetic voices? / Bofu Shaw on Unsplash
And artificial intelligence (AI)-powered synthetic voices aren’t just for the TV and movie industry, or viral “fake Tom Cruise” videos. Many brands are now creating their own synthetic voices to represent their brand. Why? Just watch the smart speaker in your living room.
The synthetic advantage
With a synthetic voice, you can programmatically generate spoken sound on the fly. Rather than pre-recording each line of text in a recording studio, you can simply have the audio generated in a fraction of a second.
To start, you need to provide the system with “training data” – usually a voice actor reading a selection of lines to the system.
There are still certain scenarios where a voice over artist would be the best option. For example, we recently created an Alexa skill for Sky Bet where Sky Sports presenter Jeff Stelling provided the voiceover.
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However, if we wanted to preview the match with more dynamic text, written on a weekly basis, a synthetic voice would be a better option. Rather than generating a generic “Manchester United will play Liverpool” from a cache of recordings or expensive weekly recording sessions, a synthetic voice can give us: “Manchester United will face Liverpool this holiday at Old Trafford”. Director Erik ten Hag…’
The Coming Synthetic Audio Boom
Synthetic speech technology has been around for years. Over the past five years, the cost and time to create a synthetic voice has dropped dramatically, and access to the technology has become much easier. Synthetic voices can even be created at home via a website, by uploading audio clips for training.
There’s also been a boom in places where brands can deploy synthetic voice assets: call centers, point-of-sale terminals, radio ads, YouTube clips, storytelling on website copy, and conversational experiences.
The key for brands is to ensure the voice is consistent, unique and in line with the brand’s visual aesthetic.
There are three tested strategies for doing this well:
1. Use an existing voice
If your brand already has a voiceover artist or celebrity who is already known as the voice of the brand, this is often the easiest option. For example, KFC with Colonel Sanders created a synthetic voice of the famous founder, who has already been the voice for years.
2. Create a voice
Use a voice actor to create a unique new voice for your brand. The BBC recently created a voice for their website to read articles. It was ‘mixed’ in such a way that you can’t pin the vocals to an exact UK accent or location.
3. Borrow a voice
Take a celebrity or well-known person to lend their voice. It can be considered a risky strategy if this celebrity were to continue to be embroiled in controversy. But with that voice comes popularity and pre-existing perceptions.
With each of these options, there are legal and ethical questions that need to be answered. What is the mission of the place where the voice can be used? Are there things a celebrity wouldn’t want their voice to say? These questions can deter brands from using a celebrity.
How to combine voice search and synthetic voice?
Smart speakers are a massive growth area for synthetic speakers. Many big brands have created Alexa Skills voice apps, where the brand controls the conversational experience. Here, many brands have to use the built-in Alexa voices to add voiceover to their app. But if a brand has its own synthesized voice, the experience becomes much more personalized to that brand identity.
Beyond voice apps, voice search is a key consideration on smart speakers. It’s not far-fetched to see a future where Alexa and Google could use different brands’ synthetic voices to answer questions, rather than the default Alexa voice. For example, Alexa might respond to “how many calories is in a can of Coke?”. with ‘according to Coca-Cola, there are 123…’ in a voice specific to this brand.
As the use of smart speakers grows outside the home, with brands beginning to use voice in marketing operations, the use of synthetic voices will only accelerate.
For more insight into the worlds of voice and sound branding, check out our Deep Dive Audio hub.