Casting out the English: why the referendum result won't stop advertisers' appetite for a Scottish accent

'1914 Day by Day' is one of many tributes recently broadcast on BBC Radio 4 to mark the beginning of The Great War.

Stay Together: the campaign features celebrity Eddie Izzard
Stay Together: the campaign features celebrity Eddie Izzard

The series consists of readings taken from newspapers, documents and journals of that year. The BBC didn’t start radio broadcasting until 1922, so the programme, though fascinating listening, misses something of the authenticity of how those words would have sounded.

Tone and accent have of course changed considerably since the days when stiff upper-lipped Received Pronunciation (RP) was the default voice of authority. Ever since the 1960s there has been an obvious shift away from RP in our entertainment and advertising.

Thanks to social change, we now have a softer descendent of it, coupled with the widespread use of regional accents, particularly in advertising, where a generic "English" accent might be considered impersonal or inauthentic.

In the past, the RAB has conducted research that shows how voice/accent can have a marked impact on the effectiveness of your radio campaign.

Topically enough, in the run-up to the referendum, we’ve noted that Scottish accents have been an enduring hit with advertisers.

They strike a balance of approachability, authenticity and authority – crucial in the finance and travel sectors, for example. Incidentally, it doesn’t necessarily follow that casting is based on the provenance of the brand.

Travelling to Cornwall care of Great Western, it used to puzzle me that they’d selected a Geordie accent as the automated voice on the phone. I blame our Cheryl. That said, being informed in a Cornish cider-saturated drawl that my train would arrive "drekkly" might not have inspired me with confidence either.

It makes inherent sense for brands such as HBOS, Scottish government etc to use a Scottish voice over in their commercials, but several national advertisers also use Scottish accents without the "heritage" card for justification. They are cast because the actor reads the script well in a tone that fits with the best qualities of the brand.

David Tennant has done notable work on radio recently as the voice of both Heinz and Virgin Media. But over the past year, the Scottish voice has become a political one. Does this have implications for advertisers?

Will appetite for Scottish regional casting be affected in any way by the result of the vote in September? I suspect not.

The performance always comes first in casting. In a world of ever-shifting borders, brands will continue to cast the talent who best delivers the script in a way that will appeal most effectively to their target consumers. 

In fact, evidence suggests that accents will often work more effectively outside their homeland.  I’m not holding out for a Cornish referendum any time soon, but if St Austell’s Doom Bar were to invest in radio, I’d fully expect the campaign to be voiced by someone from Fulham.

Clare Bowen is the head of creative development Radio Advertising Bureau