How an accent can make or break your brand – by Gianna Hindmarsh
About ten years ago when I was working all hours in a television production house in London, I noticed that a very plummy accented freelancer working opposite me, picked up the phone and rang a member of her family. She then proceeded to talk in a totally different accent, a Geordie one in fact.
I was very surprised, firstly that she had to disguise her accent to such a degree, but also that she felt that she couldn’t speak like this within a creative company. The fact I was the only one in the room didn’t bother her as it wasn’t the immediate team she was working with, but still it got me thinking: do other people who are that aware of their accents seek to change them?
Apparently, according to an ITV/ComRes poll in the UK in 2013 more than a quarter of Britons felt discriminated against because of the way they spoke, which is pretty depressing as the UK has many different accents and dialects. However, we are also still a melting pot of class assumptions and social conditioning.
Although equality and diversity are very topical in today’s society there are still very real prejudices when it comes to accents. The stereotypes of being untrustworthy or poor are still very much associated with certain dialects (most people can guess which!) Many Brits will also admit to toning down their accents in an interview or on a first date! My dad even adapted his Tyneside accent when he moved to London in the 1960s as he was very aware of how different he sounded to everyone else and didn’t want the associations of class.
It’s not just Brits’ attitudes to accents that affect society, it’s embedded in media institutions too. According to the Radio Times ‘The working-class voice is excluded from British television. Surveys report that Britons don’t like the accents of the industrial cities, such as Birmingham. They reportedly feel more kindly towards “quaint” rural voices, but with the correlative stereotypes that rural speakers sound thick and urban speakers sound criminal.’ (Radio Times, 2018).
However, there are also many accents that on the whole are perceived and associated with more positive emotive feelings. For example, the Yorkshire accent is perceived as being very comforting, think of Hovis, Yorkshire Tea and those real immediate feelings of nostalgia!
A later poll by YouGov found that the most attractive dialect was southern Irish, closely followed by what is known as received pronunciation – the Queen’s English – the plummy tones I heard from the freelancer all those years ago. And when you watch the news how many regional accents do you notice?
It’s still very much those RP tones that are prevalent, there are a few with Welsh, Scottish and Irish accents as these are actually more preferable to the population, but again, the versions of these accents are very middle class varieties.
Accents in video
In the creative industries there does seem to be a rise in the use of regional accents to encourage audiences to engage better with brands. A relatively recent buzz word “localisation” is being bandied around. It means considering how a brand can be adapted for a local audience. How they can utilise culture, dialects, social conventions to get their message across and to resonate more with the specific requirements of a regional audience.
And it doesn’t just apply to the UK. Kelsey Frick, Senior Account Manager at translation and localisation agency Integro, explains, “Not only do you have to take dialect into consideration when targeting UK audiences, but audiences abroad too. Even little things, like the noise an alarm makes, can make all the difference to localising a video. In the UK, alarms make a ‘bleeping’ noise, but in the US, they ‘beep’!
We can apply this all around the world. As English speakers, we often think of a ‘French’ accent, or a ‘Russian’ accent, but in reality these countries and territories have a huge variety of dialects, all with different implications, just like in the UK.”
Birds of a feather…
An online marketplace for audio and voice over services, voices.com’s 2018 voice over trends report found that the demand for localised voices is on the rise amongst industry producers and creatives. Audiences want to hear from someone that sounds like them, not just an RP English accent, but a local accent that emotionally engages them with a brand. They’ve recently created an accent map to allow users to listen to and appreciate the dialects of various different regions to see whether they could represent their brands to support the demand for voices with accents and dialects.
The Age of Accents
This also resonates with age group too, different generations have different engagement levels with accents, so an older person is more likely to be receptive to an RP accent as that’s what they are used to hearing, in broadcast media like the BBC at least, where as younger generations are more open and receptive to any accent, but also age and gender is a factor too: the nearer their own age the more likely they are to engage with the message.
What this means for the future
Lets hope there is a case for accents being used across a wider variety of media forms, engaging not only with local audiences, but national ones. Dialects should be celebrated for the diversity and multicultural society that they are part of, after all, one way of speaking isn’t superior to another. The belief that we should aspire to having a better “accent” to “get on” needs to change.
And what this means for your video
Yes, your animated explainer video or video production might be about your brand or its products or services. But it’s not just about your brand. It’s very much about your audience. Because if you want your brand to be authentic, and not just have the facade of authenticity, then the look, feel and sound design of your video needs to appeal to, and reflect, what the audience wants. Not just in terms of their values, but quite literally how they sound.
That’s not to say you can never use an alternative accent, because most brands are not restricted to one small geographic region and audience dialect. But if you do use an alternative accent to your primary audience – or a heavily watered-down version – make sure you know why you’re doing it and research how your audience might interpret and respond to that… before you do it.
Part of our video production process is centred on designing how a video needs to sound. That means designing the music, sound effects and the voice over to suit the brand, the content, the goal of the video, where it will be published and what the audience will respond to best.
Using the most appropriate accent, as part of getting the sound design right, can make your video a turn on instead of a turn off. Have a read of our FAQs or get our video guide if you’d like to find out more.
All the best, Gi. Editor at Curveball.