How a Top Audio Ad Producer Is Taking on Equitable Voice Casting
By Roger Sho Gehrmann, AdWeek (Reprint)
In 2020, following the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement grew from a hashtag into a global cry for equality, equity and justice. As a result, companies have faced increased pressure to address racial injustice as a business imperative.
As one of the world’s largest producers of audio advertising, the Studio Resonate creative team took inventory of our own creative practices, seeking to root out ways in which we might implicitly or explicitly perpetuate systemic racism.
Assessing issues and setting goals
In reviewing our approach to creating audio ads for our clients, we found two areas of major concern. First, the vast majority of voices we were casting for general market audio advertising were white voices. Second, our voice talent roster lacked the diversity necessary to support more diverse casting.
Our course of action was clear. We needed to make our voice talent pool more diverse, we needed to change the way we write briefs and direct our voice talent, and we needed to break out of default casting practices that favored white voice talent. In addition, we sought to address the need for sonic diversity in our industry as a whole, amplifying the topic through the launch of our Stand for Sonic Diversity initiative.
Taking actions starts with accountability
We recognize that there can be no true accountability without transparent reporting. We have previously shared why audio advertisers need to diversify voice talent. And now, it’s been over a year since implementing our new voice casting policies. While we’ve been monitoring data internally, it’s past time to share publicly our progress against the goals we were targeting:
- 50% BIPOC casting
- 50% BIPOC representation on our voice roster
Looking at our past six quarters, we see progress:
- 41% of voices cast in our ads now feature BIPOC talent, instead of only 15% prior to implementing our new policies
- Our voice roster includes 44% BIPOC talent, up from 31% this time last year
While we have made considerable progress within a year, we still haven’t hit our goal of 50% BIPOC for casting and talent rosters. We have more work ahead of us, but it’s encouraging to note that clients have been supportive of our efforts, with little pushback to our casting choices for the roughly 9,000 audio ads we’ve produced over the past year.
Also to note, our data points are imperfect. Currently, when we onboard new voice actors to our roster, we ask about their language fluency, authentic accents and other voice specialties that map to the requests we receive from advertisers. We don’t explicitly ask about the actor’s race or ethnic identity. For the purposes of this analysis:
- If they report native Spanish fluency and/or a native Hispanic accent, we consider them “Hispanic VO.”
- If they report an authentic Black voice read, we consider them “African-American VO.”
- If they report none of the above, we consider them “Other VO.”
We know this methodology is problematic. For starters: We shouldn’t make assumptions about people’s identities without their self-reporting. While using the label of “Other VO” is a poor proxy for white-identifying voice talent, it’s also important to note that not all native Spanish speakers identify as non-white. We also don’t ask whether our actors identify as AAPI (or the many identities contained within that broad label), indigenous, multi-racial, or many other common racial/ethnic identities.
We’re working to implement a more useful, voluntary, demographic survey for our voice talent so that we can report this information with greater granularity and confidence. And we will revise our reporting if needed once new reporting criteria are in place. In the meantime, we believe our data is directionally accurate, and we believe imperfect data is a poor excuse to delay corrective action. ♦♦♦