Female actors and writers can often be heard leading the conversation on race, sex, gender, wealth, and power through some of television’s most popular shows, but there is one place you’re unlikely to ever hear a woman’s voice on TV: on a commercial advertising those female-created shows.
That made it particularly noteworthy when ABC began to use a female voice to advertise its Thursday night programming block, featuring three hours of shows from executive producer Shonda Rhimes. Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How To Get Away with Murder dominate social media Thursday nights (and also Friday mornings), and collectively the three dramas drew over 36 million viewers (in Live+Same Day ratings) in their Sept. 25 debuts. The following week that number fell to a still-impressive 31 million.
The night’s official tagline — “T.G.I.T.” (or Thank God It’s Thursday) — has likely also become the Friday morning mantra of ABC executives, particularly in the face of increased competition from Thursday Night Football.
“It’s a classic case of counterprogramming,” Brad Adgate, a media analyst at Horizon Media, told BuzzFeed News about ABC’s decision to air three female-skewing shows opposite heavy competition from football on CBS. “Roughly two-thirds of the NFL viewers are male. Looking at Scandal, 75.5 percent of the audience is female. How To Get Away with Murder is 72.5 percent female. Grey’s is 75.6 percent. ABC has done very well with this branded night of Shonda dramas.”
ABC is no stranger to counterprogramming against sports — the network successfully used Dancing With the Stars against Monday Night Football for years. But there was a secret weapon in ABC’s arsenal this time around, ubiquitous “T.G.I.T” commercials that bucked the industry norm for one significant reason: They featured a female voice-over artist.
While network promos often have a perfunctory vibe to them (“This is when ‘X’ show premieres and why you should watch it, OK!”), ABC’s campaign stood out thanks to its rapid-fire cuts, cheeky sound effects, in-your-face typography, energetic pop music, and reliance on buzzwords like “OMG,” “obsession,” and “binge-worthy.” In short, the female voice aspect wasn’t the only attention-grabbing element in this atypical ad. But it was noteworthy in that it felt both risky and different — and made me notice it every time it aired.
“With T.G.I.T., we knew we wanted to make it much more of a fun, playful, conversational sell,” Melissa King, ABC Marketing’s creative director, told BuzzFeed News. “So we came up with this 60-second spot, we call it The Awesome Combo, and the voice of it, the playfulness, and the conversational [tone], in my head, it just sounded like a female voice.”
By and large, networks use male voices to sell their shows because “the male voice naturally cuts through,” said King, who added that when ABC tested ads with female voices in the past (Mistresses and The Bachelorette were two examples that she cited), women in their focus groups still preferred spots narrated by a man.
So King sent out a casting call and looked at both men and women for the job in case the network insisted on a male voice, but decided that in the end, “this script just sounded like it was coming from the point of view of a woman.”
It also helped that the “T.G.I.T.” spot was designed to promote a night of programming led by one of the industry’s most celebrated female creators, whose shows also had a significant female following.
“We were going up against football and knowing we have a very female-heavy audience, it sort of seemed like this was the ideal campaign to use a female voice,” said King. “I just felt like it made [the ads] much more relatable to a woman.” After a massive search, King eventually settled on Anna Vocino as the new voice of Thursday nights on ABC.
“The way we wrote [the ad] was like a girlfriend talking to you,” said King. “It didn’t feel like a guy was the right voice. Anna had that ‘your girlfriend talking to you’ quality to her.”
According to King, the only way to truly judge the success of an advertisement with the audience is to look at whether or not it’s being talked about — and using that criteria, the “T.G.I.T.” spots are as big of a hit as the shows they promote. “People are absolutely talking about these spots,” she said. “People have told me it was nice to hear a female voice on the network. The fact that she was a woman and most networks use men, I think they cut through the clutter and really helped create this unique brand.”
In fact, the spots have been so successful, Vocino not only became the official voice of ABC’s “T.G.I.T.” campaign, but saw an uptick in requests for her work. “Some of our affiliates liked her voice so much they asked for her agent’s number,” King said. “So it’s really, truly successful because our affiliates like her and want to use her for theirshows.”
And while these “T.G.I.T.” spots might seem like the exception to an old rule, King has hope they’re the first in a long line of female-fronted network campaigns. “I’m always going to push for them when appropriate,” she said. “And I hope this leads to more female voice-overs on the network.”