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Political Attack Ads: 'It's Just A Job' ...
NPR Interviews Reveal Techniques
Oct. 27, 2008
Voice actors wield tremendous behind-the-scenes power in politics – voicing ads that their clients hope will sway elections.
Voicing attack ads – which are so prevalent now in the final days of the most heated election campaign in a generation – might make some talent wince.
But to those who are good at it, “It’s just a job, like anything else,” we hear in a National Public Radio (NPR) All Things Considered program.
Titled Voices of Political Ads Share Insight, the Oct. 23, 2008 episode interviews attack ad "hit men" Scott Sanders and Dennis Steele.
“Every campaign cycle, familiar voices come on to radios and televisions: the voices of negativity, the voices of doom,” says NPR on its web site, where the interview may now be heard. Sanders and Steele “talk about what’s in demand this year.”
Actually, this interview is a follow-up to a similar one that host Melissa Block conducted with Sanders and Steele two years prior (and which also may be heard at the NPR web site.)
Nothing’s changed in the realm of negative ads.
In the Nov. 6, 2006 episode, Block describes Sanders and Steele as the “king and prince of political attack ads,” and observes that political VO talent must “Leave your politics at the studio door.”
Sanders says he prefers voicing attack ads in a “soft, negative” way.
Steele goes for the jugular, asking if you want the ad “Heavy, medium or light.”
In both styles, there is dramatic urgency – a threat and sense of dread – akin to a TV promo or movie trailer about a killer on the loose.
Yet the interview itself is playful, and Sanders and Steele have fun voicing some familiar nursery rhymes as fearful warnings.
In the Oct. 23, 2008 interview, Steele reveals a dramatic technique:
“I look past the microphone as if there were another person standing right behind it, and I’m in a room of crowded people,” he says. And then he whispers softly, menacingly, to that one person near the mic.
The attack ad masters also demonstrate how they use voice inflections to make common words sound “dirty” in this year’s ads. For instance: “liberal”, “socialist”, “erratic”, and the phrase, “more of the same.”
Steele admits to “getting tired” of doing these ads. But not Sanders.
“I have two kids in college (to pay for),” he explains. And besides, he adds, campaign ads are “a part of the democratic process.
“You’ve got to put your political prejudices behind you and do the job.”
Adds Steele: “Nobody ever asks you what your political affiliation is. It’s just, ‘How fast can you get here?’”
The NPR web page includes actual attack ads, plus links to current episodes about negative campaign tactics.
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