One of the most common tools in the advertiser’s toolbelt, good voice-over can make a campaign sing to an audience. If done well, it can make good copy, and make it great. For international brands operating in China, there are several considerations that need to be made, in order to make the most of what voice-overs have to offer, and to avoid the worst of what a misguided voice-over can do. Below, we’ll look at the particulars of why voice-overs need good localization in China, when video voice-over is necessary, and how the typical work process works, from start to finish.
Localization of Voice-over in China: What and Why?
China’s mediasphere is increasingly distinct from just about everywhere else in the world, and as such, techniques such as voice-over must be adapted to suit the local context. On the digital front, domestic innovators have created media platforms and services that are analogues in some respects with their international counterparts, but bear significant and important differences. Comparisons that are often wheeled out by ‘experts’ on digital marketing in China may previously have needed to be taken with a grain of salt; now, like a tequila slammer, they need to be taken with a whole lot more.
Yes, WeChat is similar in some ways to WhatsApp. But it’s just as similar to Facebook, or Twitter, or even Venmo. Yes, Weibo may appear similar to Twitter, but its functionality is different – micro-topics, rich media, threaded comments, events and reward systems make it stand apart. The same can be said for the other media platforms that currently dominate the Middle Kingdom, when viewed through the lens of comparisons with international platforms: Xiaohongshu (Instagram), Bilibili (YouTube), Dianping (Yelp), iQiyi (Netflix). The comparisons sort of make sense. In some ways. But in just as many ways, they are either incomplete or misleading.
When it comes to localization, it is the differences that matter the most. Each of these platforms contain functionality that can support content with voice-over, but much of it is distinct from other platforms. An advertisement with voice-over is a tried-and-true method to grab a potential customer’s attention, but it must be suited to a platform’s functionality and audience.
For example, ads on iQiyi are more like traditional TV commercials, running around 60 seconds, with full arcs and high production value. On platforms like Dianping and Xiaohongshu however, ads are much, much shorter, and are often made in an informal faux-amateur style, with a host or KOL. The voice-over script, tone and delivery has to be carefully curated, in line with platform-specific considerations. For international brands wanting to enter or increase their share in the Chinese market, adaptation is simply a must.
When is Video Voice-over Needed?
Website / online store videos
Chinese consumers are well-known for wanting as much detail as possible on the products or services they buy, and for wanting to know that what they’re buying is authentic. A website or online listing with a video, accompanied by a high-quality voice-over, can make the difference between converting a prospect into a customer. It is the kind of extra note of professionalism and attention to detail that all consumers seek.
Social media videos
Now that so many Chinese consumers own smartphones, and are big fans of short-video platforms, new opportunities for international brands seeking to make a name in the Chinese market. Well-produced, high-quality videos often require voice-over that is appropriate for the audience, and attune to the latest trends in online social media.
Art is booming in China. New collaborations between Pompidou and the West Bund Art Centre, and Tate and the Museum of Art Pudong, are just the tip of the iceberg. With the expansion of the art market, international institutions are flowing in. Nothing is worse, however, than bad translation at an art exhibition. Doubly so when it’s voice-over. Language in these circumstances must articulate complex ideas with precision, navigating the intersection between concepts related to art history and technique, and the interpretation of the work on display. Done well, voice-over can guide visitors through this often-difficult journey. Done badly, it can confuse and confound.
E-learning platform guides
E-learning is huge in China. In fact, due to Covid-19, it’s become huge everywhere. Worldwide, the industry is now valued at $250bn. With a projected annual growth rate of 21%, it’s set to hit $1tn by 2027. There is no reason why e-learning platforms shouldn’t internationalize; with few of the associated assets being physical, they are perhaps one of the easiest services to take beyond domestic borders. For clients and customers, it’s important to create a fast understanding of what a given e-learning platform offers, and then to follow through with a frictionless user experience. Clear, well-localized guides using voice-over are a quick, easy way to achieve this.
Guided audio tours
Audio guides in museums used to be clunky affairs. They would involve renting a tape player or mp3 player, with headphones, and flicking through the recorded passages, usually according to a pre-set route. Likewise on city walking tours, or even bus tours, listeners had little control over what they might hear and when, or how. Smartphones have changed the game entirely. With the help of interactive pages, mini-apps, QR-code scans and more, listeners are able to listen in a dynamic, flexible way. This opens up opportunities for tour providers to become much more creative with their voice-over format, creating a dialogue with the listener, wherein both parties share control over the experience.
Public address systems
Whether it’s during an event, at a pop-up store, or on a means of transportation that caters to people who speak different languages, public address voice-over is ubiquitous. It’s often said in the world of user experience design that good design is invisible. The same could be said for voice-over in public address. The aim of public address is to convey information. The recipient should be focused on that information, not on the voice-over itself. The voice-over therefore needs to sound natural, properly-localized, and therefore, ‘invisible’.
Client sends their original video and/or audio
When it comes to localization, it’s usually the case that the client has source material in one language. If not, they will have something similar to what they need, and can provide it as a reference. This is sent to the localization agency first, to gain an understanding of what the project entails.
Script writing and/or translation of the script
Some clients do not have scripts, some do. In the former case, it is the job of experienced, native script-writers to come up with something that will be interesting, culturally-resonant and that accurately conveys the ideas in the campaign. In the latter, it is a matter of translating, localizing, and often improving the existing script.
Provide samples from a selection of voice-over artists
Once the script is ready and approved, the agency will send the client a selection of samples of varying tones, accents and genders. The client will pick based not just on whether they like a given voice, but based on whether it fits the company image, might resonate with the target audience, and suits the content of the video.
Send the script to the artist
The voice-over artist will often practice before recording, becoming familiar with the different highs and lows, the energy, and refining their cadence. This will often be sent along with the original video for reference in tone, or another video from another campaign for the same reason.
Artist records the audio in partnership with the studio network
Generally, the agency and the artist will go together to an audio studio and record options. The agency will do its best to represent the client, and communicate their vision to the artist. It is the job of the studio sound engineers to refine and apply the recording.
Send the audio to the client
Once the options are recorded, they are sent to the client. The client might then offer feedback, and request small changes.
After validation of the audio recordings, the mastering of the audio track and application to the video track can be completed. The client can receive the video on the same day as the recording.
HI-COM has had over five years of experience providing voice-over services. We have accrued a good range of artists and studios, and have an efficient, working process. As a certified translation service, we can help translate, localize and record materials in English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French, Spanish, and more. Moreover, with our expertise in digital marketing, we can advise how best to adapt videos and audio clips to best suit whichever platform they will be hosted on. Drop us a line, send us a file, and let’s start the conversation.