© 2020 The Livingston Group for Qualitative Research

  • Dr. Sharon Livingston

Secrets to TV Ad Casting: Part 2

“Your Customers Make the Best Casting Consultants”


In the last post, we talked about the importance of Likability in casting for ads. The second factor that’s related to likability is believability. When viewers make the liking connection, they are more apt to find the character believable.

There are other factors that affect credibility.

Believable actors are described as natural, sincere and approachable. Participants in research recognize them as friends, neighbors or coworkers, people they would be comfortable with in everyday life.

As such, they mirror the viewer from a category appropriate point of view. So how they’re dressed and coiffed signals whether or not they are someone with whom the audience can relate. This is interesting, since often actors reacting to a casting call, show up in “come as you are” garb. They’re reading without props or costumes. If the actor can make the believability connection on their own merits, (s)he probably is a strong contender.

In addition to making consistent direct eye contact with the camera, believable characters tend to use a minimum of hand and body gestures.

Less believable actors are more likely to

-look away,

-shift their glances, and

-demonstrate broad, exaggerated gestures.

These are judged to be untrustworthy and merely acting. Further, rolling of the eyes is experienced as disrespectful and disingenuous.

What else to avoid.

In one depiction, the actor was sneering and looking away. Sneering looks criminal. He might have thought he was depicting his pain [headache commercial] but came across as a thug instead. Who wants to buy from a criminal?!

An excerpt from a report speaking to believability and appropriateness to category:

This particular protagonist was described as very believable and convincing. Her direct eye contact with the camera made her seem open and honest, and her size, movements and expressions communicated that she could be a genuine sufferer:

“She seems like someone that went to her doctor and is taking the product herself. Her facial expressions were real, good eye contact, she wasn’t just an actor.”

“You can tell if someone is lying – she would convince me. She seems very nice, probably very honest, clear, makes good eye contact.”

“Honest, believable, no doubt that she would tell the truth. Very approachable, very polite. Very nice person. I would definitely want to hear more from her.”

“The way she’s dressed. Just rushed out to run an errand. I do that and I’d be wearing something like that with my hair a little messy.”

“She looks like she could have high cholesterol. She’s not as trim as she could be, so she could still have it.”

Other clues of believability are more subtle. These include things like the subtle flaring of the nostrils, slight tilting of the head, and postural cues like leaning slightly forward which communicate positively.

Another way you know that you’re on the right track is in listening to the quality of response from the interviewee. When emotionally engaged, via likeability and believability, respondents answer more quickly, and with more detailed stories from their own perspective than those having a more intellectual (and thus less action inducing) response.

Authenticity and Persuasive Emotional Power Is Communicated Differently When Actors Are In Couples

So far, our discussion has been focusing on a solitary actor or actress delivering a message directly into the camera, … but what about when couples appear together? How is authenticity and emotional impact delivered then?

It turns out that while occasional eye contact through the eye of the camera is still important in these situations, much more important (particularly when the acting team is presented as a “couple”) is their ability to truly communicate that their “other” (fellow actor or actress) is the most important person in the interaction. They have to radiate “chemistry.”

This is demonstrated by

-turning their bodies towards each other,

-reaching out to the other with glances,

-gentle touching, and

-what appeared to be genuine embraces.

These behaviors seem to allow the viewer to put him/herself into the picture and identify with what they perceive to be loving relationships. Respondents can then identify with the problem, the emotions expressed about it, feel concern, some sense of urgency and the relief and confidence of finding a good solution.

In Couples Casting Research, Believability Is Dependent Upon The Interaction Of The Couples And Perceived Compatibility Of Character Traits

It is interesting to note that in couples casting research, outstanding stand alone actors coupled with different “mates” may not perform as well as they do solo. [Hmmmm. Sounds like an interesting commentary on the human condition to me!]

The same actor perceived as warm, appealing and believable with one actress, for example, may be perceived as too aggressive and irritable with another. Or a woman might seem to roll her eyes too much with one man, but appear loveable and credible with another. [Rolling of the eyes is interpreted as contempt according to relationship researcher John Gottman, Ph D. Couples who demonstrate this behavior are highly likely to end up in a separation because of the disparaging affect on self esteem and trust.]

Similarly, respondents react more favorably and emotionally to couples well matched on looks, height, color coordination of their clothing … and most importantly, “authentic rapport”.

If you have a variety of actors and actresses read together in different combinations and then show respondents a reel with all the various permutations, respondents will pick up on the mismatched couples and say something like “this is obviously a first failed marriage” … and later, seeing the same man or woman with a “better match” will describe them as a “second marriage … a much better choice!”

“He married the first one for her looks. She was a sorority girl, cheerleader, and spoiled brat. He always felt like he had to keep up appearances. She wanted the security of the money. She started messing around on him and finally left for a bigger bank account. He was crushed at first. But now he’s with his soul mate. You can tell by the way they’re dressed, almost matching plaid shirts and jeans, low key, casual, comfortable. They look so comfortable together. They enjoy snuggling up in front of the TV with a beer. Look at how they look at each other with warmth. They beam at each other.”

What winning couples have in common is a communicated “chemistry.” They look like they truly care about each other and show support for each other. Their warmth and touch of humor in their delivery is seen as natural and compelling. Well matched couples seem to glow and come alive with genuine rapport in each others’ presence. In hearing consumer’s thoughts about the reel, one creative director mused, “You know, they did seem to have a little flirtation going. It was palpable.”

So, to wrap up. The keys to a compelling casting decision?

Likeability, Believability and Authenticity as demonstrated via open eye contact, avoidance of exaggerated gestures and the ability to be present with the camera as if talking to another real human being.

The intangible something, the connection to the advertisement’s targeted audience, clearly rests on what I mentioned earlier: relationship.

To be most effective, your ad should not “feel” like selling, so much as telling a relevant story; one that the audience will buy into on a basic, emotional, human level. Finding the right people to tell your brand’s story and make it irresistible is like casting a motion picture, TV show or theatrical production. The right actor(s) can make the end product desirable in the right way for the right reasons, and the wrong ones can have the opposite effect. Who better to assess this precious connection than the person who is an integral part of this relationship, your consumer.

Dr. John Gottman has studied what he calls the "masters and disasters" of marriage. Ordinary people from the general public took part in long-term studies, and Dr. Gottman learned what makes marriages fail, what makes them succeed, and what can make marriages a source of great meaning, by examining partners’ heart rates, facial expressions, and how they talk about their relationship to each other and to other people, Dr. Gottman is able to predict with more than 90% accuracy which couples will make it, and which will not. These findings have relevance for all communications.