Advertisers - Is Your Ad Really Accessible to All?

Shelby Akosa, VP of Global Growth, and Elisabetta Pozzi, Country Sales Manager, talk about the low percentage of ads that are accessible today, plus how and why advertisers must do better

10 March 2023

When Shelby Akosa, Peach’s VP of global growth, was at the Cannes Lions festival last year, she noticed that many of the talks were accompanied by sign language interpretation while the festival’s agenda focused heavily on diversity and inclusion at large. It’s then interesting to consider that in the UK market, where the hearing loss charity RNID estimates 1 in 5 people to live with hearing loss, only around 20% of content is subtitled. The number of content with an audio description is lower still, meaning that much of it is inaccessible for blind and visually impaired people. 

Increased accessibility comes in two forms: subtitles, for those with hearing impairment, and audio descriptions for the visually impaired. Subtitles, also known as closed captions, rely on a text script. “Closed captions are not just burned-in and require a specific attention and expertise to make sure that they respect the original text, but do not overlap with visuals that can be crucial to the message. Some specific colour code may be requested as well,” explains Elisabetta Pozzi, Peach’s country manager for Italy. 

Audio descriptions are more time intensive and subjective still, requiring the production of an audio file that can be turned on and off. Audio descriptions are also more creative, needing attention to detail to ensure that the right parts of the ad are communicated and use a suitable voice to represent the brand. Getting the script right is crucial in this instance.

Shelby, who also sits on the Adtext Steering Committee - a joint venture with Peach that provides subtitles to broadcasters, says: “Our data shows that 1 in 6 people in the UK use subtitles, which is 10.9 million people or 17% of the population.” That’s a significant number especially when compared to how little content comes subtitled at all. Elisabetta notes: “Over the years there has been a growing need for more accessible campaigns to diversified users. In Italy, at least 10% of the population have a hearing impairment. They watch TV and normally have no access to advertising while watching a subtitled program, but they are consumers like the rest of the population.”

Subtitles aren’t just for the hard of hearing. They’re essential when there’s a lot of noise, like a pub or a busy room. They’re necessary when silence is required, like receptions. Subtitles are also widely used by people in multicultural households where English may not be everyone’s first language. 

In the UK, subtitling has been around since the 2000s and Peach launched Adtext with the Mill back in 2008. The Peach platform has enabled the industry to provide subtitles to the UK, Ireland, France, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand. In Canada, subtitling is mandatory. The rest of the world is pretty far behind. “Not all broadcasters and not all countries are ready to work with the specific files that are needed to provide closed captions. The technology must be ready to manage the files. In Spain and Sweden we are at an earlier stage, but we are now taking the first steps with the broadcasters,” adds Elisabetta. Japan is making moves towards subtitling too and Peach is in the process of facilitating it in the region for creative agencies and advertisers alike. 

“The supposed reasons we don’t see more subtitles in advertising comes down to different kinds of content. Children’s advertising doesn’t get subtitles since they might not be able to read it. Film trailers are rarely subtitled and that could be down to the volume of trailers or assumptions about the cinema-going audience. Some advertisers choose not to because a lot of the information is available on screen,” Shelby says. 

She continues: “One thing that advertisers could stand to do more is watch ads with the audio off; it’s a great litmus test. How much communication are you getting from the visuals only? If you don’t know what’s going on from that alone, you should be adding subtitles to the ads.” Brands today need to consider how they’ll look if and when a person turns on the subtitles and their ad appears to be the only one without them amid subtitled ones; it’s likely to negatively affect brand perception at an already precarious time. 

We have to wonder why more ads don't have subtitles, especially when in the UK and French markets the practice “lets them reach an additional 10% audience,” according to Elisabetta. Shelby says that more often than not it comes down to production budgets. “We’ll see that the advertiser wants to do it, the broadcaster is ready to accept the closed captions, but the missing piece is the production budget to get it done. The challenge, as I see it, is for brands to ensure that there’s a line in the budget from the very start - not at the end - to ensure that the ad you’re making is accessible to all.”

Categorised as:

  • Opinion
  • Accessibility