Freedom of Voice

The big news item in the voiceover world is the firing of D.C. Douglas, the announcer for GEICO.  To sum up the drama, Douglas left a voicemail message for FreedomWorks and they responded with this blog post.  Soon after, GEICO fired Douglas.  You can read his side of the story here.  After the firing, FreedomWorks responded with triumph in another blog post.

If that seems like a perfunctory opening, let me explain that I’m not here to take sides, to defend or condemn or judge anyone involved.  This incident is not the first time an actor or public figure has been fired for something that happened in his/her personal life.  It’s just the first time (that I know of) that it happened to a voice actor and therefore it hit close to home.  This incident led me to a question and I’d like your help finding the answer.  The question is this: Are public figures allowed to voice their opinions, their dissent, their opposing views, without being vilified to the point of losing their jobs?

D.C. Douglas admits that calling FreedomWorks and his choice of words were both mistakes.  I’ll take it a step further and call it immature (Sorry D.C.) and I think FreedomWorks’ responses were equally immature.  But what if Douglas hadn’t used inflammatory language?  What if he had called and left a message stating that he took offense to the racial and homophobic slurs that have been attributed to the Tea Party and he is truly concerned that without censuring the behavior of some of its members, one of the Tea Party may resort to physical violence?  If he attached his name and phone number to a message like that, would the Tea Party be able to affect the loss of his job?

When I was growing up, my mom owned and operated her own business.  Her employees wore uniforms with the company logo and she drilled it into them that as long as they wore that uniform, they represented her company and she expected their behavior to be above reproach.  It didn’t matter if they were going to or from work or on their lunch break and therefore technically off-the-clock.  As long as they wore the uniform, they represented the company and their behavior needed to reflect that.  That expectation always stuck with me and I’m sure it’s part of what made me a valuable employee to my subsequent employers.

Now that I’m self-employed, I am my own business and my own brand.  My product is my voice.  My voice represents my clients.  I think about my mom’s expectations all the time.  Am I allowed to use my voice however I please without risking the loss of my clients?  I think about the things I say before I say them, the words I write before I write them, any information I publish about myself, I try to make sure will not reflect poorly on anyone else.  I’m sure I must fail, or if I haven’t yet, I will.  I’m human, right?  But how much might failure cost me?

In 1993, Charles Barkley was a controversial figure and stated that pro athletes should not be considered role models.  Nike made an ad out of that quote.  Cut to modern times.  Michael Phelps lost his Kellogg sponsorship for being photographed with marijuana.  (Dude! He was 22! He’s allowed to experiment!)  And then we have the Tiger Woods “scandal”.  Yeah, I put scandal in quotes.  While his behavior was scandalous, I don’t know that it needed to become a national scandal.  But it did, and he lost sponsorships because of it.  Should he have?  Is it impossible to separate the man from the athlete?  Or does any public figure automatically become a walking brand and therefore “on” all the time?

Did GEICO have to fire D.C. Douglas to assuage the Tea Party?  Douglas does not blame GEICO for their decision.  He takes full responsibility for his actions, which in this day and age is refreshing.  But, because he is the voice of GEICO, did his behavior reflect poorly on the company?  Were they really answerable for his actions?  Are we as voice actors, truly allowed the same freedom of speech as the average citizen that does not voice or represent a product?  Is this a political question?  Ethical?  Philosophical?  What are your thoughts?

This entry was posted in Marketing and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Freedom of Voice

  1. Michele says:

    These days, we cannot separate our private lives from our public lives or our work lives. Danah Boyd calls this “collapsed boundaries.” So, we have to learn, sometimes the hard way, that everything we say and do can bleed over to other parts of our lives. Douglas may not have been able to predict the effect of his actions, but he’s sensible enough to accept the consequences.

  2. Don Ranson says:

    Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Advice that’s been around for a couple thousand years. Words are powerful allowing us to build or break down. Freedom has boundries allowing us to live together or blow each other up. The decisions are very subjective but the results very objective, so we’ll continue to struggle with life, liberty, and the persuit of happiness — hopefully, with a resonable amount of “doing to others like we want them to do to us.” Arachaic? Maybe. Practical? You’ll have to decide many times every day.

  3. D.C. Douglas says:

    I think it’s important to note that FreedomWorks exploited my connection with GEICO and then conflated my work for them with being “The voice of GEICO” so they could maximize their press traction. It was one of several sleazy moves. But it worked as the conflation is in your blog (though I’m not offended).

    I was not THE voice of GEICO. I voiced two celebrity campaigns in 2007/2008. Recently I had been hired for a small run campaign that has yet to air.

    That being said, life is too short to live in fear of tarnishing your brand. You’re a human first, voice over commodity is further down the list.

    Regardless, no one would’ve heard about this if I let the first FreedomWorks post die as a tempest in a tea pot. But what they did was heinous and dangerous in todays world. I went public because I’m a human first. I want to be able to live with myself down the line after everyone has forgotten about this. And everyone will.

    But for now, I get to shine a light on their darkside.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s