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American English Dialects: Considerations for National Advertising Scripts

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Why Word Selection and Voice Over Pronunciations are Crucial to a Successful American National Ad Campaign

As if writing a script wasn’t hard enough.

Each time you sit down to that blinking cursor, you know that there’s a lot to pack into your script. From key messages, to calls-to-action, from the right words to reflect the brand voice, to phrases that resonate with the target audience, an ad has to operate on multiple levels.

But when it’s a national campaign – the savviest marketers and advertisers know that all of that effort would be for naught, if regional dialects aren’t considered as well.

Although many people are familiar with some of the distinguishing accents of the United States – from the Southern drawl of Texas, to the unique Minnesotan accent, there are a wide variety of dialects across the continental United States, too.

This means that depending on where you are in the US, you may have your own unique form of English.

These maps illustrate just how much variation can exist – even within a single state – and luckily, we have tips on how to navigate dialects for a successful national campaign script!

1. Americans Speak English Differently Across the United States

Scriptwriters best take heed, different regional pockets across the United States may use completely different words to refer to the exact same thing.

For example, those beautiful white shoes you just purchased? A Northeastern State may refer to them as sneakers, while others would call them tennis shoes.

Source: Business Insider

But wait!

It gets more niche than that.

Let’s say you’re writing a commercial for a major outdoors brand that caters to hunters and anglers.

Your product is called the Do-Wriggler: a new fishing lure that looks, feels, moves and even smells like a particular tiny lobster that fish just love.

Plasitc Crayfish Fishing Lure
A picture is worth a thousand words – this is your product, the ‘Do-Wriggler.’

Depending on where your main target audience lives, they will know this crustacean by a specific name.

On the Northern portion of the Eastern Seaboard, it’s a crayfish, in the Southern States, it’s a crawfish, and in the West, well, it’s a crawdad.

A map of the United States shows how different populations refer to tiny lobsters as either crayfish, crawfish or crawdads
Source: Business Insider

Clearly, it pays to be mindful of the words you choose, because it can completely impact whether or not your audience will understand what you’re offering.

2. Americans Pronounce the Same Word Differently in Different Regions

Right now, you may be thinking, ‘Thank goodness I’m not writing campaigns about crawdads.’

Well, once you know you have the right words, it’s equally important that you ensure that they’re said in the right way. Pronunciation needs as much consideration as the words themselves, and this also varies regionally.

Let’s use another example – this time with an uncontested product name like ‘mayonnaise.’

When your script promoting ‘simple, delicious, farm fresh mayonnaise,’ is read out loud by your voice over actor, how many syllables should mayonnaise have?

Depending on where your audience resides in the United States, they may be deeply divided over whether or not mayonnaise should have two or three syllables.

A map of the United States show how different populations across the country pronounce mayonnaise, with either two syllables or three
Source: Business Insider

Even with so many considerations to keep in mind, rest-assured that it is possible to prepare your message to be well-received by a national audience.

Here are a few tips to help guide you in writing a script for a national ad, as well as pronunciation notes for your voice over actor.

Choose Words and Pronunciations that Mirror Your Brand Voice

Maybe your brand has a clear Southern tie (e.g. head office location) and so using words and pronunciations that are quintessentially Southern makes sense for your script as they represent your sound, no matter where your brand is advertised.

It may also be that your brand voice or persona lends itself to other traits in pronunciation or wording. For example, a brand or product that is meant to convey a laid-back lifestyle may play upon a West Coast persona.

If you’re creating an ad for your own company, and you’re not sure what your brand voice is, we also have a handy article on How to Express Your Brand Voice.

Hire a Voice Over Actor with a GenAm Accent

The idea of a ‘neutral’ accent is sometimes highly-contested (after all, with so many variations in words and pronunciation, is there such a thing as neutral?).

However, while there certainly is no such thing as a globally neutral accent, on a national level it is possible to hire a voice over actor whose accent is not clearly tied to one region.

This is called General American, or ‘GenAm’ and is most closely associated to the Midwestern region (e.g. Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Indiana, Ohio, Kansas etc).

Many clients are surprised to discover that voice actors often do more than simply read the words on the script – they’re thinking about the intent of the message and the audience it’s positioned to reach. Professional voice actors will often give clients variations in their reads and respectful suggestions on certain wording – especially if it comes across as jarring or doesn’t fit with what the client is attempting to communicate.

National Campaigns are on the Rise – How Are You Approaching Scriptwriting?

Voices.com research indicates that the number of national campaigns are on the rise. This also means that navigating regional dialects, accents and even languages is becoming more important than ever.

How are you navigating the challenge?

We’d love to hear your voice over scriptwriting and hiring strategies!

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