What Mickey Mouse Can Teach You About Voice

by on 05/07/2010 • 22 Comments | Branding

Here’s something cool – Mickey Mouse is finding his voice*. Literally. According to the official Disney Parks Blog, they’re ‘playtesting’ a new Mickey Mouse that will be able to interact with guests in ‘never-before-seen-ways’ – most noticeably, Mickey will be able to talk. He’ll be fitted with his known voice and will be able to address children by their real names. Imagine being a child and getting to meet a Mickey that not only looks the same, but sounds the same as the one you already know? He becomes an instant best friend.

Here are a few videos of the trial that let you see it in action.

No exaggeration, that first video took my breath away. It was Disney magic in action, magic that transformed the Mickey standing in front of those children into a living, breathing Mickey, and the same Mickey I knew as a kid. And it was able to do that because I recognized his voice. It’s another brain cue to tie my Mickey experiences together and create a more unified brand [read Yawn Webmaster’s comment on the subject].

Mickey got his voice through a 1994 patent. As a brand, you get your voice through social media. That’s how you’re able to tie all of your experiences together. It’s how you create a fluid emotional aftertaste that people can hold on to.

I think that’s the aspect of social media that many brands don’t get. They look at social media as a new platform to sell and a new medium to share content, which it is. You can automate your interactions and turn your Facebook page into an RSS feed without much trouble. But that’s not what makes social media useful. The power of social media is that, just like with Mickey, you can address your customers by name. It makes it possible for you to use those social outposts as a way to tie all of your brand experiences together so that you’re creating a single voice in the eyes of your customer. You make it so that they’d recognize you in a dark alley.

We recognize people through their voice.

If you’ve been reading me for any length of time (I’m sorry), you know that voice is particularly important to me. It’s something I struggle with and something that (through hardship) I’m able to understand and appreciate differently than most people. Because it’s difficult for me to physically use my voice, I understand the importance of helping brands find theirs. It’s taken me awhile to figure out that that’s why I do what I do. And that’s why I do what I do well.

I remember in high school feeling like people who were particularly articulate seemed to earn more respect from both their peers and their teachers. Their voices were heard more and were given more weight. I remember how if you had one of those voices that didn’t match your body, people looked at you funny, seemingly trying to figure out where it was all coming from. And if you were someone like me, well, your words were pretty much lost because of how fragmented your speech was.

The parallels for brands in social media are obvious.

  • When your voice is fluent and authentic, people make a lasting connection.
  • When there’s a disconnect, they get confused.
  • And when it’s fragmented, they tune you out.

Think of social media as your voice and figure out what it is you want to be saying. Instead of looking for ways to put it on auto-pilot and how to automate interactions, think of what you want your message to be and how you can use your social words to create it. In social media, your brand comes to life. It’s not about exaggerated movements and fake Mickey hugs any more. Through Facebook, Twitter and blogs, your voice box has been turned on. You can either continue to be that robot or you can speak in a way that ties everything you’re doing together to create a fluid experience. You can make it so that you’re offline, online and everything-in-between interactions are all strengthened through the voice you existence of a new voice.

Your microphone is on. What are you saying?

*Thanks to Virginia Nussey and James Kim for alerting me to Mickey’s new voice via the Twitter yesterday. It changed my Thursday.

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

22 thoughts on “What Mickey Mouse Can Teach You About Voice

  1. Because this will be suck in my head for the rest of the day, I insist it gets stuck in everyone else’s…

    M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E
    Mickey Mouse!
    Mickey Mouse!
    Forever let us hold our banner
    High! High! High! High!

    You’re welcome.

  2. Nicely done post, and really what could be a more powerful example than Mickey (and his new awesome technology).

    I do think there’s a lot to be said for looking at your voice on social and how to develop it, whether it’s authoritative, friendly, first person, collective, or whatever may fit your particular approach, it’s important that it resonates well. I’ve seen this go both ways too — HotTopic’s facebook team does a great job of being very personal, very direct, but I’ve seen other brands try this while being too corporate in the message and fail.

    You have to be honest about what your organization is, how far you can shift but also what people will expect and speak from that tone, consistently, or not at all.

    And Dawn… now it’s in my head as well…

  3. Yes, having a strong authentic voice s important….but all I want to do at the moment is take the mouses head apart…..I want details on how it works! Is it scripted? or is it based on voice recognition of the actor? What are they using to move the mouth? If it is scripted are they using any case based algorithms to make it more authentic? Come on Disney! Cut the mouse’s head open!

    • Ok, It has to be voice recognition, in the first video he says, “I like your princess, shirt.” That’s obviously not scripted, unless there is a very advanced optical scanner in his eyes, but even then its unlikely that it could recognize a princess and where the princess is located at the same time….so i am thinking its like an advanced voice changer for the actor.

      • I must be on drugs today because that extraneous comma can’t possibly make “I like your princess, shirt” as funny as I seem to find it right now.

        • LOL!! I am just a programmer that likes to take things apart…..half of the things that I say and type don’t usually make sense! But in this case that is very funny when you point it out!

        • No, it’s funny. The optical recognition algo still needs some work if it can’t tell princesses from shirts. Now I have this image of Mickey with a Terminator-style Heads-Up Display:

          “Object Detected –> Princess OR Shirt – ACTION?

          (1) Wear it
          (2) Complement its dress
          (3) Mark it down 20% to clear inventory
          (4) Cast it in next animated feature”

      • All I want to know is why they dont simply hire actors who can do an impression of Mickey?

        I’m guessing there is second person typing in the phrases, probably assisted with a set list of Mickey-isms, which are passed to a Mickey voice synth in the costume.

        • That’s a good theory, but i am still willing to bet that it is a voice changer. Look at how the actor’s movements are synced up so well with the verbal patterns, that would be very hard if there were two folks manning the wheel.

        • As an actor myself, I’ll answer your question.

          Doing Mickey is really hard. His voice is really high, but distinctly masculine. I can do it, but only for a couple of hours at most. After that, my voice is absolutely shot.

          The actors in those costumes are out for hours at a time, and those costumes are insufferably hot. Being that tired also strains the voice. Also, the actors are switched out every hour to two hours during the really hot months, and the inconsistency between the voices is another problem.

          Having a high-tech voice changer is a pretty good solution.

          • These voice-changing costumes are ripe for parody use. I hope they don’t have them under too tight security… A drunk Mickey would be more than slightly hilarious.

  4. As a Disney fan, so glad I read this. So cool they are using this technology with Mickey (you could talk to other virtual characters like Crush).

    “You can either continue to be that robot or you can speak in a way that ties everything you’re doing together to create a fluid experience. ”

    You gotta respect your voice, and in social media it’s crucial. You can’t be a robot or just read from the script. You have to think and speak in a way that’s true to you, the brand and the interaction. FWIW.

  5. What impresses me is that Disney was willing to go without a voice for so long, for the sake of the brand. Mickey’s voice is so distinctive that substitutes and imitations didn’t cut it; all the complications that result from having a voiceless Mickey were worth not compromising the impression of the character. Of course, it helps that kids will play along with the whole “Mickey’s helper” who can speak for him.

  6. Well the Mickey Mouse song’s stuck in my head now. Shame that I’ve only ever heard it at the end of Full Metal Jacket.

    Erm… Anyway, great post Lisa!

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