Chummy automation: why no one wants Ant and Dec to voice the M&S tills

It’s just after 9am on the first day back to work after the Easter bank holiday weekend, and, in London, shopper Tracey Venning is battling to get her breakfast past the Marks & Spencer self-service checkout in St Pancras station. Through no fault of her own, each scan is greeted by the shouts of Ant and Dec, their normally soothing prime-time geordie lilt demanding that she “please scan your next item” and, when flummoxed by her bakery items, insisting that “help is on the way!”

This isn’t a candid-camera stunt for the next series of Saturday Night Takeaway, but the latest in the growing trend of faceless brands personalising their automation with chummy personas. Ant and Dec, along with Amanda Holden and Alesha Dixon, are each being paid a reported £100,000 for their M&S voiceover work, as part of the promotion for the next series of Britain’s Got Talent, joining the disembodied ranks of the Virgin Trains “talking toilet” (as modelled by career self-parodist Dean Gaffney), the gif-laden sassy Netflix Twitter account and Sunny D’s strange mimicking of depression on social media. It seems the pressure for brand engagement is pushing marketing teams into deeper and darker recesses, prompting one dentist to advertise (or threaten) that their services could “set your soul on fire”.

Read the feature in the Guardian.

[This piece was published on 23/04/19]