Probably the dumbest thing about me is how susceptible to TV commercials I am—especially those of the fast food variety. I just can’t help myself. Seeing slow-motion frames of flaccid burger patties flopping around a sesame bun actually moves me to go out and get a Big Mac. Marketing is sinister and preying on the dull-witted is evil, but that shit works. And you know what works even better? When those intense close-ups of burgers and fries are paired with a well-done voiceover.
Iconic actors hamming up their vocal cords to persuade us to spend money is simply the way TV sounds now. And for my money, the two people who do that dirty deed best are Ving Rhames (Arby’s) and Brian Cox (McDonald’s). These acting legends do their goddamn best to seduce you into their respective fast food brothels with their steady and familiar tones. Both Rhames and Cox knock their commercials out of the park—but who does it better? Is there a way to quantify what these legendary performers have contributed to their respective brands? Let’s get into it.
The case for Ving Rhames, Arby’s spokesman
First of all, there’s only one guy named Ving, right? Like, I don’t know of any other Vings and it’s a name that just never comes up. “Hey, Ving and the guys are going out after work.” Nobody says that. Plenty of Irvings (his birth name) out and about, but I just haven’t heard of anyone shortening their name to Ving. Points for having a singular name.
“Arby’s: We Have... The Meats.” It sounds like a threat. Something somebody says through a voice modulator on the other end of the phone asking for ransom. And while Rhames’ voice is deep, authoritative, and loud, it’s also trustworthy. It makes me go, “Damn, Arby’s really does have the meats, and I think they want to share them?” In short, I would probably do anything Ving Rhames asked of me except go to Arby’s (who on earth?)
But it’s more than just a bombastic voiceover—there is a raspiness to Rhames’ voice that humanizes it, his throatiness adding some vulnerability and depth. It’s more than just a man shouting at you about meat (although that’s certainly the way the ad campaign is designed). Listen to how he pronounces the s in meats—he lingers on it, almost hissing at you like the devil incarnated as a snake, telling you to eat an apple from the Garden of Eden. Only switch that apple with a Steakhouse Garlic Ribeye sandwich that’s going to leave your butthole wrecked.
Honestly, anybody else but Ving Rhames doing the Arby’s voice just wouldn’t make any sense. Name another legend who can make their voice toe that line between completely exaggerated and also totally sincere.
The Case for Brian Cox, McDonald’s spokesman
Is there a more gentle, soothing voice than that of the classically trained Scottish actor Brian Cox? Since 2020, he’s been the voice of McDonald’s, and the Succession star’s disposition as he describes the Quarter Pounder couldn’t be more unlike his character on the HBO show. He’s calm, fatherly, and patient, taking his time to whisper in your ear about burgers like he’s cleared his entire schedule just to talk to you. Near as I can tell, he doesn’t seem to be wresting corporate power from his children in these commercials, either. Instead, his voice is upbeat and reassuring. It feels medicinal, like we need it.
McDonald’s struck gold the moment Brian Cox first uttered an a cappella version of the iconic “bud-uh-bup-buhhh” half of the McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” jingle. There is a suave calm to his voice that puts a fresh spin on the well-worn tagline. It really juxtaposes what McDonald’s is all about, which seems to be slinging burgers and fries until it achieves global domination. His extreme chill kind of implies that this is just a mom-and-pop burger joint, a feat that’s nothing short of a miracle.
Brian Cox is exactly what McDonald’s needed. It’s a brand so well known that it can kind of coast along, and by having somebody like Cox do a very nonchalant, peaceful voiceover, McDonald’s only further demonstrates its confidence in itself. The company knows we’ll come through the door.
And the winner is...
Look, I don’t think anybody can do what Ving Rhames does in these Arby’s commercials; they’re iconic to the point that there are hours of Arby’s parodies online that nail just what’s so damn funny and outlandish about the ads in the first place. Rhames, and the visual signature that Arby’s has built around his voice, will not soon be forgotten.
However, the unparalleled charm of Brian Cox just can’t be overstated enough. Using only his voice and a healthy amount of restraint, he has infused the McDonald’s brand with a gravitas we didn’t even know it was missing. He’s a silver-tongued devil full of wit and magnetism, as if Satan himself were endorsing McDonald’s. And you know what? That’s what marketing is all about. Brian Cox wins.