VO Analysis: DriveTime.com “Mathematician”

Last week I analyzed the voiceover of the Wells Fargo apology spot, so I thought I’d analyze the latest TV spot from DriveTime.com, and tell you what makes it so interesting to me, so maybe you can learn something from it too. This will be much easier for you to watch instead of read, but it you’d like to read about it, too, have at it. Bonus: it’s voiced by one of my favorite talents ever.

I have to admit that before seeing this spot, I never heard of DriveTime.com, but when I heard the VO, I instantly knew who it was. His name is Will Lyman, and I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid.

He’s probably best known as the narrator on the TV show Frontline on PBS, a journalistic show which covers very serious topics and thus requires a serious narrator. Will pulls that off like no one else can, but he also works commercially, and this spot is a great example of his range. He gets to have some fun on this one, because the spot is most definitely not serious.

Now unlike the Wells Fargo spot, this one’s a :30, so it doesn’t have quite the amount of material to work through, but there’s plenty to talk about.

First off, I think the casting here is perfect, because Will’s a little older just like the story’s main character, and the intelligence he naturally has in his voice pairs very nicely with our main character, the mathematician. So it’s a good match with the spot’s concept and visuals.

To begin the read, he doesn’t just jump right in, he takes a pause after the first word.  He takes a pause as he introduces the professor. This pause helps to build a some anticipation for what’s coming next. It would have been really easy for will to just say “This is Dr Gunter Zooloff” without a pause. And who knows, maybe he recorded a take that way. But the creatives chose the one with that pause because we can use pauses to create emphasis and anticipation where the copy otherwise wouldn’t allow for it.

The tone Will sets in these two sentences is amazing because it’s funny without being LOL funny. He does this a couple different ways. First, he’s using his upper registers. Will has a really deep voice, and that’s the register he relies upon when narrating Frontline because it brings gravitas to the read, which is appropriate in that case because of the subject matter.

But that wouldn’t work here because this is a goofy little story being told. So he’s up here in his lighter register, and it’s almost airy. In fact, when I hear him I almost picture him seated in a luxurious chair, eyebrows raised, a tumbler of good cognac in one hand and gesturing toward Dr. Zooloff with the other. He has this upper curst quality to his voice, and that light and airy delivery adds to that.

So that’s one thing that makes it funny. But the other thing is how he treats the question and answer. He doesn’t use a single downward inflection. Everything ends upward, it leaves us hanging. Upward inflections tell us there’s more to come. In our daily lives when we ask someone a question in conversation, we usually ask it upward because it signals the listener that we’d like a reply. The same thing works in ad copy. Will could have easily used downward inflections here and that would have been fine, but going up tells us there’s more to the story, and it also adds to this persona he’s building…this eccentric guy who doesn’t have a care in the world.

Then he does use a downward inflection, but he saves it for a genius moment, because it tells the listener that of all of this, the thing to remember, the thing which is final and important, is the client’s name. It’s almost as if a took the client’s name and made it into its own sentence and goes down in the midst of the rest of the stuff which goes up.

You can hear voice over pros doing this from time, it’s a nice way of it making the client’s name stand out from the rest of the copy. And clients love that.

He continues with the upward inflections everywhere, even with the first answer to the question. Usually answers go down but he goes up. The first “no” has no finality to it at all and it would have been easy and quite logical for Will to put some in there at this point, but leaving it just hang out there gives us the impression that he’s just shaking his head at the decision.

The very inflection is a comment on Dr Z’s horrible lack of thought when it comes to where be bought his car. You can almost hear him tisking and shaking his finger at the poor guy. He finally brings in a downward inflection with the second “no”, bringing this part of the story to an end. But the copy isn’t done.

This spot follows a classic problem/solution format, where a problem is presented and the solution is the product or brand. This line nicely sums up the problem, which is that without the correct information, even very smart people can make bad decisions. Will could have gone upward here too, except the copy doesn’t allow for it, because it’s a summary of the story, not a continuation of it. So it’s logical for him to go down here, and it’s excellent direction to hit the word “almost” because obviously anyone who solves an unsolvable math problem is brilliant, but genius is a whole other level and this guy, isn’t that.

And at :21 the solution is presented the read is dramatically different than the previous 20 seconds.

Will’s energy picks up here. He’s out of storytelling mode and he’s more interested in making sure we understand what he’s saying. He ups his projection, ups his speed, he’s put down his cognac, sat up a little straighter in his chair. That finger which was waving before is not pointed at us and and he’s saying remember this. He’s not overly impressed with the facts he’s giving, he’s not trying to sell us anything, and he is still the same guy, only now he’s got a moral of the story and he wants us to remember it even more than the story itself.

He motors through this section (no pun intended), which could have been just because they were running short on time, but it creates urgency and is a nice compliment to the laid back nature of the previous acts of the spot. Any time we have a chance to play up contrasts in our reads, we should do that.

In the end, this spot is awesome, which is why it’s gotten 2OM views since it was posted two months ago.

Will Lyman, everyone! In my book, he’s the genius.