The Promo and the Tag

There is a great similarity between a promo actor, and a commercial actor. In both cases truth casting applies.

In the so-called old days, “promo guys” were all cut from the same cloth. Either the Ernie Anderson basso, or the Casey Kasem sweet, sweet, “California Crackle.” Both of these men, for many years, led the way. Combined, they arguably earned more money than any other two actors in the business, during the same time period.

What Casey and Ernie had in common was conviction. They both believed that they were the best salesmen in the world; one with sweetness, the other with outright arrogance.

Amazingly enough, both sweetness and arrogance translated into sincerity. Why? Because it was their truth.

In that era, from the late forties to the late sixties, there were literally only three major playgrounds for the commercial promo actor: ABC, NBC, and CBS. Of course, most cities had their own local channels, but those were not the fertile big money domains enjoyed by a network promo announcer.

Today, the promo producers use a wide variety of types. Men, women, kids, adults, younger, older, upbeat, sarcastic, sincere, loving, and scary. Well, you name it, and they’ll use it on air. The old days are obviously gone. For the actor… they weren’t the “Good Old Days.” It was nothing more than a limiting time for the vast majority, and a prosperous time for the very few that fell within the limited guidelines of what was then acceptable.

While we exist within a subjective art form, we must never the less strive for certainty whenever possible.

What do we know about the promo? What stands out, besides the great sums of money an actor might make for seemingly very little work?

The very nature of the promo demands that the actor selected must be an exceptionally good reader.

If it’s written in English, our actor should be able to read it with ease.

The actor must be able to handle last minute, and constant script changes.

This isn’t the place for a prima donna.

This is the place for the professional who by nature is confident, and comfortable with and within themselves.

The actor must be able to perform multiple attitude transitions under tight time constraints.

It pleases me to offer that many successful promo people are graduates of Kalmenson & Kalmenson.

Proponents of our method have praised the “lead-in” as their tool for quick study, when they find themselves in the throes of being handed a stack of twenty or thirty promos to deliver. As I said earlier: “This isn’t the place for an actor who keeps dropping words.”

Like any program where the rewards are great, the work it takes to get there is in concurrence. For any outsider looking in, the determination of how simple it looks and sounds to be a promo actor announcer is a classic underestimate of the talent and perseverance required.

Having had many of today’s premier promo actors as both students and colleagues allows me to make an in-depth appraisal of what these guys who are making the big bucks have in common (well, maybe not so in-depth).

It almost always boils down to a few of the same human determinations actors must make for themselves. Of course, first and foremost for every active competitor is the question: “How badly do you want it?” In other words… are you willing to sacrifice your time, energy, money, while sharing the experience of frustration almost everyone before you living a similar adventure has had to live with?

There is a bright light, however. In the days of the earliest of promo actors, there were far less outlets for their work. Ernie Anderson and Casey Kasem had the basic three to ply their talents. With the advent of cable, and other networks as well, today’s marketplace for the promo actor has increased substantially.

◊ The closest thing to an actor is his or her website. Showcase your talent on your own website. Tell people what you do and give them a sample of your work.

◊ Multiple representations around the country, especially if you have your own home studio, are now commonplace.

◊ Today, an actor can electronically have many agents; New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are absolute musts for the serious voice over promo talent.

◊ Web content companies, production companies, independent movie trailer companies, and of course every recording studio where the human voice is being recorded can serve as an outlet for your talent. Many actors are booked in as last minute replacements due to a variety of extenuating circumstances.


The Tag

They called it a tag.

There were only a few words on the page.

And to add insult to injury, none of it made sense to me. I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was during my short-lived (seven year) career as a commercial talent agent.

The head of our voice over department had informed me in his raspy tones that today I was to direct some tags. Trust me… I had no idea of what a tag was. Guess what. My boss, the guy who had given me the assignment, really didn’t know what the technical definition of a tag was.

Simply stated, a tag is a word or line, that usually appears at the end of a commercial script, and that, that particular line does not change the meaning of a previous script that also contained, or was void of a tag. In other words when an actor does a tag they receive payment of the then established tag rate. An actor may be hired expressly for the sole and singular purpose of doing the tags on a series of commercials. The sponsor may tag as many commercials as he chooses to without having to pay for an additional session providing the tag does not change the meaning of any individual commercial. If the meaning is changed, they, the sponsor must pay you for an additional commercial. Now if none of this makes any sense to you it doesn’t really matter. Your agent is the one who is required to know about all this crap.

“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!”

“With a name like Smuckers, it’s has to be good!”

“Miller light. Everything you’ve always wanted in a beer and less!”

“Chevy. Like a rock!”

“Ford. No boundaries!”

And of course, the question: “Do you… Yahoo?”

Those are just six of the many tags that I could have mentioned. Each of them accomplished exactly what the sponsor’s ad agency was attempting to do. That is, become a household saying. Each of these tags comes from a different time period, yet all of them are remembered.

The average actor might say how lucky these people were to get a tag like that to perform. Certainly I would have to agree that a great deal of luck was involved.

In many cases, we may audition hundreds of actors for one single tag. We at Kalmenson might not be the only casting people in the country that are conducting a search for just that one individual who happens to be letter perfect. That one voice who could be the “Bud”, the “Wise”, or the “Err” that came out of the three most famous frogs in the world. As an aside and as a point of interest, we were the ones who found the Budweiser Frogs. But during the course of the last twenty-five years, we’ve been able to find many different voices and sounds that have become easily identified in households all over the country.

While we did mention luck on the part of the winning actors, there is nevertheless a great deal of skill and confidence that was also part of their winning formula.

Okay… here’s the basis for their magic: Entitlement. Da harv has had numerous professional experiences with the actors who were the chosen ones for all of the previously mentioned tags. They all have that belonging thing in common. They are all comfortable with themselves as people. They have all settled in. We can’t teach that. All I can do is point it out to all of you. These actors all believe that their individual truth gives them the right to influence our lives. That’s their breakthrough as actors.

They are able to look the other guy right in the eye and tell him the truth.

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