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Should You Use Brand Names In Your VO
Demos? Five Reasons Why You Shouldn't ...
December 9, 2016

By Gary Terzza

UK Voice Actor & Coach

When it comes to recording voice over demos, the use of brand names inevitably crops up. Read a few blogs and dive into those forums and you will see this issue sharply divides opinion.

My personal opinion is that you should NOT use famous companies' names when producing your voice over showreel. Here are five reasons why:

1. You Don't Have Permission

Perhaps the first and most obvious argument against the use of proprietary names is the legal one.

All scripts are protected by copyright and their use is strictly controlled. Ripping off a script directly infringes this copyright - do Mercedes or Nike really want your voice associated with their product?

Unless you have permission from the client, stick to generics, buy royalty free scripts or write your own stuff.

2. It Misleads The Listener

And by 'listener' we are not talking about your Aunt Mabel - your important audience is made up of agencies and other potential clients. In other words, folks who might hire you.

Let's say you have genuinely recorded (and been paid) for a high-end voice over job for Sainsbury's and you add this to your showreel. Nothing wrong with that (as long as the supermarket giant gives you clearance of course), and then you decide to also include a mock demo sample for Heinz Baked Beans, for which you have ripped off the script from the TV.

How confusing is that? The listener could assume you have been hired by both Sainsbury's and Heinz, but only one of these would be true.

How is a voice over agency to know which is the 'real' track and which is the fake? In my book that is deception.

As Armin Hierstetter, the founder of online voiceover marketplace Bodalgo said to me once, "If the voice talent was not actually booked by a company he/she must not use anything that looks like the company booked her/him." 

3. Scripts Date Quickly

A few years ago, my agent booked me for a job with a big financial institution. There was the promise of on-going work, which would have been a nice little earner.

Not only that, but this company's name would look great on my demo reel. The investment bank in question stood for solidity and reliability, and the sheer cachet of its brand name would be a feather in any voice artist's cap. 

The script had been sent and the date had been set when, at the last minute, the job was abruptly cancelled due to 'unforeseen circumstances.'

I was bitterly disappointed and considered using the script they had sent me anyway to record something for my showreel. But that would have been a big mistake.

The bank was Lehman Brothers and they went bankrupt a few months later during one of the most turbulent periods in financial history. Lucky escape from my point of view, but using the brand name in this instance would have carried with it a whole load of unwanted baggage, not least a dated, toxic institution.

Other household names that could have badly aged your reel are Woolworths, Low-Cost Holidays and most recently here in the UK, British Home Stores. When famous brands bite the dust, so does your reel.

You can't future-proof your demos if you mention known companies.

4. Copycat Performance

There is an editorial reason, too. I have spoken before about the cliche of using a chocolate commercial to sell your voice. These are so ubiquitous, not a week goes by without some wannabe voice actor recording one of these and submitting to an agent who, yawn yawn, has heard this type of syrupy delivery time and time again. 

What's happening is that the prospective voice over artist listens to an ad on TV or radio and then tries to copy the style. This will do you no good at all. 

Agencies and producers listen out for individuality. Trying to sound like the mellifluous voice on the old Marks & Spencer food commercials will leave egg on your face. 

5. Beginners Only Use Premium Names

I have noticed a distinct trend - if you listen to talents who have used trademarked names on their reels, something strange strikes you. They only tend to refer to big, blue-chip conglomerates.
  • Car commercial? Ah that has to be Audi, BMW etc. I have yet to hear a 'pretend' demo referencing Vauxhall or the cheap 'n cheerful Dacia Duster, which are big sellers here in the UK. 
  • Footware? Nike and Adidas feature frequently, but where are Clarkes or the budget label George from Asda? They never get a mention. 
  • What about small neighbourhood businesses? Why are these rich sources of local voice over work missing? Funny that.
Why would these 'other' organisations be omitted? Is it because voice talents mistakenly think their voices are upmarket and would only be chosen for expensive German marques? Is mass market too downmarket for most aspiring voice over beginners? 

Come on, get real. 

Of course, if you have actually recorded a corporate training video for Microsoft, or a promotional video for Barclays Bank, then it is perfectly OK to use on your showreel, but make sure you clear with your client first. 
Gary Terzza is a UK voice over coach based in London. He is also a long established voice over artist with a client list that includes Channel 4, BBC, ITV, Pepsi-Cola, Symantec, BAE Systems and Hitachi.


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Comments (5)
Christopher Lythgoe
7/19/2019 at 10:13 PM
Agreed! This article is spot on! Sadly, too many VO's that have been in the industry lack the integrity and may simply be too prideful/arrogant to face the truths in the article! A well written article!
Jason McCoy
12/15/2016 at 9:08 AM
I think it's important to remember a demo is to demonstrate the performance ability and range of a voice actor, not necessarily a portfolio of past work.
12/13/2016 at 8:24 PM
I disagree with many of these points. Agents don't know if it was you doing that National Sounding spot and that's what they look for. NO company is going to come after you for doing a fake spot. Good luck to all.
Gary Terzza
12/10/2016 at 11:38 AM
Jay - if the content is in the public domain (i.e. broadcast on radio) then you can usually use the recording for your showreel The issue lies in material that you have not been hired for, but you are mentioning brand names.
In your case you have worked for both the agency and promoted the dealership. That would be a fair representation of the job and you could quote both.

If in doubt, check with the clients first.
12/9/2016 at 7:26 PM
Good article, Gary. It should give pause for the thought. I'm not a lawyer...but I am a writer/director/producer/VO guy who's been in the biz since 1972 and I have some thoughts. Things may be different in the US than the UK. Example: Ford dealership has a local ad agency. Let's call it Pete's Motors and the agency, Ajax. Car dealer pays manufacturer a "dealership fee" that includes use of scripts for radio. Dealership gives scripts to Ajax and says, "Get them recorded." Ajax hires me to record the commercials. When I'm done, I ask the radio station for copies of the "finished product".

QUESTION: When I make my demo reel, Should I say I recorded spots for FORD? Or just Pete's Motors? I think we all know the answer to that if you're looking for more VO jobs. Maybe some lawyer has an opinion.

BTW, the "job" isn't just for Pete's Motors or's also for Ajax Advertising Agency, the one's who hired the VO guy.
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