Updated: Oct 5, 2019
Funny really. For those of us who speak any version of English, it might seem strange that a variation of an accent can have a huge impact on how people receive the information. In a recent study, participants listened to three different versions of a taped conversation between a customer and a bank employee. The script was identical and the only difference between each of the recordings was the accent of the employee, which was either Indian, American, or British. The results found that those listening rated their customer satisfaction as significantly higher when the employee had a British accent—despite the interactions following identical scripts.
Another poll asked 11,000 people from many different countries to name which accent was deemed to be the sexiest. In second place, with 8.7% of the vote, was the American accent, followed closely by the Irish accent with 8.1%, and the Australian accent with 8%.
The resounding winner? The British accent, with 27% of the vote.
This might seem acceptable, even intuitive for many people. To me, it was fascinating. Why would somebody saying the same words in a slightly different accent affect how the person listening perceived the exact same information.
More research found that the accent, product country-of-origin and product involvement significantly influence the spokesperson's perceived credibility and attitude towards an advert for a product. The British accent effects appeared to be strong enough to offset the country-of-origin, gender and product involvement effects, attesting to the importance of considering this factor in advertisements.
Now, as a British voice over artist, I was particularly interested in how this affected me and how I could use this to my advantage! I am running a business after all and anything that can help me increase my client base is worth looking in to. Therefore, I wanted to find out if I could categorically state to my clients that using a British accent, whether it was for a commercial, corporate explainer or IVR telephony system would increase their revenue or improve the metric they are looking for. After all, that is the most important thing for them.
As I started to research this more and more, it became obvious that the evidence was out there to support the assertion that using a quality British accent can make a large positive difference to how a project is received by the audience. An article from telephony company tollfreeforwarding.com, showed that nearly half of Americans preferred a salesperson to have British accent. Even when people in the UK were asked in the same survey, 34% agreed that having someone with a British accent was more charming on the phone. In both countries, participants agreed that the British accent was the most attractive, and that they would be likely to talk to someone trying to sell them a product or service if they had their preferred accent. Those numbers clearly show that using a British accent can increase sales.
But why? This is from an article in Psychology today: “Right or wrong, we use the information that accents provide to make social judgments. Accents can provide clues to geography which then fuels biased decision-making. We make both positive and negative assumptions about socioeconomic status, intelligence, and personality that may not be grounded in statistical reality. In other words, accents feed stereotypes. A French accent makes you haughty and highbrow in the eyes of many. However, that same voice may be an advantage if you are interviewing for positions in the fashion world or culinary arts.
British accents conjure stereotypes of high IQ and competence while Brooklyn and Southern accents get lower ratings on intelligence. This is not necessarily consistent with actual IQ scores, but the perception persists just the same.”
Fascinating. An accent can make you sound smart even though you aren’t. It can help you get a mate according to this article in the Guardian. But the evidence is in. A British accent has been proven to increase sales, increase learner attention and just make your product sound….well… a little more luxurious!
But wait! This is in no means a slight on any other accent. In fact, this BBC article goes on to explain why the US accent is actually closer to the real British accent of Shakespearean times. How ironic that they now think some US accents are closer to the British accent of the 17th Century than modern British! I am sure that would appeal to Shakespeare’s sense of humour!
Find our more about British Voice Over, Craig Williams at www.craigsvoicetalent.com