With Tide becoming the first brand to air a spot with audio descriptions during Super Bowl, we take a look at what brands stand to win with inclusive advertising.
If you have ever boarded a train from a suburban station in Mumbai, it is likely that you have heard a beeping buzzer near the spot where the coaches meant for Divyanjan are supposed to halt. It is supposed to help visually impaired commuters in locating the coach. The idea behind the installation is that sound can be used to help make spaces and communication inclusive. In the digital world, this is something that can be achieved with the help of audio descriptions, to make both content and advertising, inclusive.
Audio descriptions are a form of narration that described everything on the screen. The visual description makes the content richer, and more accessible to those who depend on just audio to access it. Usually, it is an added audio track that goes parallel to the dialogues and other sounds.
Netflix has made several titles available in the audio-described format. Facebook and Twitter have also been working in the space, using AI for automatic alternative text (Facebook) and by nudging users to add image descriptions in tweets that contain pictures.
Saksham Trust is an NGO that is working towards making Indian movies accessible in a similar format — they were the ones responsible for getting Dangal audio-described and available for broadcast.
One of the hurdles in such efforts is that the audio descriptions are usually added after the entire content piece has been made, instead of having the format in mind while conceptualising the idea. Another major issue is that these ads require more technological advancement for being broadcasted properly — something digital ads can bypass easily.
P&G is a company that has been putting in efforts to change this, on a global level with Sumaira Latif, Company Accessibility Leader at Procter & Gamble, spearheading the efforts.
Back in 2016, when P&G released a Flash ad featuring a singing dog, Latif, a blind person, was unable to understand the humour in it. While the song could be heard, it was only after she saw the ad with the audio description that she could truly appreciate the ad. It had helped complete the picture, making it more meaningful — for all.
It led her to work on the issue at P&G, helping the brand realise the importance of making their ads accessible in the audio-described format. The Flash ad was released with audio description — reportedly the first such ad for TV in the UK.
In a 2017 interview with Marketing Week, Latif said that though a majority of their ads were by then inclusive to blind consumers, it was difficult to do so with some ads because of their storylines.
"People from all levels can try and interact with products and advertising to see what it’s like when you’re blind or can’t hear. When you put people in that position, that’s how you create empathy and action – and you need both," she had told the publication.
Last January, Latif had shared with The Drum that when an ad is audio-described, it suddenly goes from something unengaging to “something I’m very interested in because it makes me feel part of broader society: I can understand the ad like everybody else”.
“We are on a journey to expanding and making this process sustainable but there's a lot of education work to do," Latif had told the publication.
For Apple, a technology brand, inclusive advertising is an extension of their products and their marketing efforts around them. They are continually updating their products with features such as sensory alerts, sound recognition, audio descriptions, and sign language.
In 2016, they had released a campaign where Sady Paulson, a video editor with Cerebral Palsy, could be seen editing the advertisement — it was essentially a behind-the-scenes video. A similar video was released last year to promote Apple's Voice Control features, from the lens of accessibility.
The most recent breakthrough for audio-described ads is the Tide campaign that was created for Super Bowl this year. Over the years, P&G has integrated audio description in their mainstream advertising in North America, the UK and Spain. However, this particular instance stands out significantly because it happened during one of the world's biggest live events.
Tylie Ad Solutions had worked on adding Descriptive Video to the Tide spot featuring Jason Alexander. "We are the first brand to ever audio describe a Super Bowl ad – but hopefully we won’t be the last," Latif wrote on LinkedIn. One can only hope her words come true.