What is Authentic Voice Today?
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As part of an ongoing investigation into multimedia localization tools and practices, CSA Research is examining enterprises’ global use of video. A combination of professional interest while researching marketing content and personal interest because I’ve just moved, led me to view several TV ads and online videos by energy providers, including EDF and E.ON. These companies deliver electricity and gas to UK homes but both are headquartered overseas, EDF in France and E.ON in Germany. The marketing videos took me down the proverbial rabbit hole trying to figure out the source and target languages and which voice is the authentic, human one.
If your ears are sensitive enough and you listen to a lot of music, you may be able to hear auto-tune. Not everyone can, especially not if the recording engineers have done their jobs well. Is this becoming the case with synthetic voice too? I refer not to the free machine tools on sites such as TikTok but to speech generated by the professional tools now available on the market. How easy is it to distinguish a robotic voice from the original human – perhaps talking in a language not their own – or from a voice actor’s dubbed words?
Take these marketing videos from E.ON. This video which aired on UK TV is all in English. While this one, produced for the Swedish market, is a mix of English and Swedish. Both feature renowned mountaineer, Reinhold Messner, who was raised in South Tyrol, Italy. In both of these examples, Messner speaks English, but in this interview video, you hear the mountaineer talking in English with a different accent. So, which is his authentic voice? Which is dubbed by a human, and which – if any – is synthetic? Does it matter if the message is clearly conveyed?
I suspect we hear his true voice in this video from the German E.ON website. It shares an extended message from Messner, recorded in all German, except for the final few moments where he speaks English. And it’s not the same English-speaking mountaineer’s voice as in the UK video.
EDF takes a different approach, at least with marketing videos delivered through YouTube and its local websites in France and the UK. All look to be locally produced. For example, content aimed at a UK audience has vehicles with right-hand drive. However, this video for the UK market doesn’t enable captions for spoken content (note the grayed out CC icon in the screen capture below) – while this video featured on the French EDF YouTube channel has built-in French-only captions. Did EDF consciously ignore the multicultural communities within both countries or was it an oversight?
Full disclosure: I only started investigating the E.ON video after watching it several times on TV, and noticing that one of the voices is a little out-of-synch with the actor’s lips. This hiccup made me wonder: was the original video in German, Swedish, or a mix of languages? Again, does it matter if the message resonates with customers and prospects? It’s clearly a big investment for a marketing video, with cinematic photography and a beautiful location. You are drawn to the glaciers and mountains, not the voices or any autotune-type sound artifacts.
So, is it only localization-obsessed people that notice signs of dubbing, synthetic voice, or editing of lip movement when video is produced to a high standard? No: deaf or hard-of-hearing people who rely on lip reading struggle with dubbed video as well. Not all producers of localized, dubbed, and lip-synched multimedia ensure that there are accurate captions or subtitles for every language, nor do they give the user the choice of which language to read. Here is a fascinating article on that subject by Svetlana Kouznetsova of Audio Accessibility.
CSA Research is interested in hearing about your experiences with how you localize advertising, marketing, and customer care video. If you have examples that you’d like to share as a producer of multimedia content, are a provider that delivers localization services or synthetic voice, or you simply want to talk about a personal user experience, then please get in touch.
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