While For The Nerd is not the first show to talk to voice actors, oftentimes the emphasis tends to be on TV, movies, and video games. While the guests on this episode have worked on all types of media before, they are perhaps best known for their work on something a little more nostalgic: cereal and fruit punch commercials!
Even if we might not think about them much on a day-to-day basis, there are characters out there who've been around for decades and whose catchphrases have been repeated for years by kids and adults alike. Phrases like “Follow your nose!” and “Oh yeah!” are simply part of the vernacular of the Western world now, ingrained into the subconscious of the many people who got a glimpse of those gleaming mascots in store aisles and saw them on their television sets.
These are mascots who real people get a chance to embody, as is the case with Matthew Curtis (the new voice of Toucan Sam of Fruit Loops), Robb Pruitt (Frankenberry, Chip the Wolf of Cookie Crisp), and Brock Powell (the new voice of Kool-Aid Man).
But before we get to them, you might be wondering: Why are these brand mascots so important to us in the first place? Well, to find the answer to this question, let us cast our minds back to an era when cereal wasn’t just something you ate in the morning - it was an experience.
A Trip Down Memory Aisle
Cereal has a strong association with childhood. This is because it used to be something of a universal language for children. There were Saturday morning cartoons, action figures involved, and so many delicious options that it felt like choosing something at a toy store. In the modern world, there might not be quite the same selection as there once was, but back then, the cereal aisle was a whole magical world to be explored.
Granted, in the last few years, the aisle has regained some of its long lost magic, but the selection is neither as creative nor as expansive as it once was. When The Mandalorian gets a cereal, it’s just more of the same in different packaging. Back in the day, there were cereals made for ET, C3PO, the Gremlins - you name it, they had it. Each one was different. They even had one for the candy brand Nerds -- how fitting. It was all so exciting.
Yet now, you can take five steps and be pretty much out of the cereal aisle already.
The one thing that has remained true in the world of cereal are the advertising icons, the legendary characters that grew up with us. Even now, after so much has changed, they are still around. With different voices, perhaps, but with the same exuberant energy as always.
Speaking of... here are a few thoughts from the voice actors behind some of the most iconic commercial characters on the silver screen, on the ups and downs of a little-talked-about industry.
Building Your Own Brand
Taking over the shoes (or beak) like Toucan Sam’s, which formerly belonged to legendary voice actor Maurice LaMarche, is difficult business -- Matthew Curtis can attest to it. Many wonder how you even get a gig like that in the first place, with the competition being so high to be the face of Froot Loops’ new marketing campaign.
According to Matt, the biggest thing that’s helped him is being the one to scout out his own jobs. For him, the real tough leg work is in finding the role for himself, before he can start on the meaty work of diving into a character and giving them a voice.
But for high profile roles like Toucan Sam, that’s where the importance of agents and managers come into play. Matt says he has his amazing team of agents to thank for his spot as an up-and-coming advertising icon, and that it’s truly incredible how much the voice acting industry has changed in order to allow his contributions to be recognized by a wider audience.
Being Up Against the Big-Wigs
Not all change is good change. Another big shift in the voice acting industry is a focus on bigger name celebrities over blue-collar voiceover artists. It doesn’t matter what the talent level of the actor is -- if their name can be put up in big font on a poster, then the producers know they have a winner.
Matt says he’s felt discouraged by these changes, but that it’s the nature of the industry. Besides, he argues, a lot of celebrities get to where they are by being genuinely talented, so there’s no harm done in the end.
At the end of the day, he’s just glad he gets to do what he loves for a living.
Bringing Your Own Flavor
The first time Brock Powell heard Kool-Aid Man’s signature phrase, he was both horrified and inspired. He had just heard Frank Sims’ deep voice bellowing it out, and although he didn’t know it yet, it would become a well-remembered experience for him.
At the end of 2015, Kool-Aid decided to find a new voice for their classic character, and that was when Brock Powell put his admiration for Frank Sims and his own talents to good use.
For Brock, it’s all about bringing his own energy, his own character, and his own quirky voice to the mix. Kool-Aid Man has a long history of voice actors behind him, and he stands as an advertising icon for mascots of every brand. So, to put his own spin on the big red pitcher was the only way Brock could see himself leaving a mark on the character’s legacy.
Now Bring It Again, and Again
Unfortunately for voice actors, one time repeating a catchphrase just won’t cut it. In order to get the part of Kool-Aid Man, Brock had to go through three rounds of auditions, each one making him say those two words over and over again in every possible way.
Robb Pruitt, of Frankenberry and Chip the Wolf fame, says that this is what it is to be a voice actor. How easy would it be to simply say two words and leave the studio? Too easy. In order to be the voice of one of these iconic mascots, Robb says that one has to come in ready to do every take a different way until the right way is found.
Yet to him, it’s not hard work -- at least, not in the traditional definition of the word. It is difficult and tiresome, but in the end, it’s well worth it to be part of the legacy of such influential advertising icons.
If you want to find out more about advertising icons and all the influence they’ve had on the voice acting industry and the world, check out the panel Icons of Advertising, virtually hosted by Galaxy Con on February 14th and featuring all the lovely people you’ve met in this article.
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