by Kim Charlson
Have you ever been watching television (with audio description, of course) and one of those contemporary commercials with music and no words begins to air. Do you think, “I wonder what this ad is for?” It’s quite obvious that the trend is to get people to look at the screen to see the product. Well, if they just added audio description, everyone would hear what the ad was featuring as they race off to the kitchen to get a snack while the commercial airs, and people who are blind would finally have access to key product information long denied by advertisers.
Advertisers would need to do a little conscious thinking about the design of commercials. Currently, it might not even be possible in some cases to include audio description due to constant dialogue. Sometimes, scripts would need to have some pauses in the dialogue to allow time for description to be inserted. Or perhaps the commercials could be written in a way that is self-descriptive, including descriptive language in the formulation of the commercial’s script? Procter & Gamble has been an industry leader in adding audio description to advertisements.
The Audio Description Project (ADP) website has added a page focusing on advertising that includes audio description with samples of commercials. The ADP will be adding more commercials as they are identified to this page. Check it out at www.acb.org/adp/commercials.html to learn more.
What do we need to do to begin to see advertisements with audio description in the U.S.?
When P&G’s accessibility leader, Samaira Latif, decided to lead the drive for audio-described ads in the U.K. as the norm rather than the exception, you would think she would have found a receptive audience.
Wouldn’t it seem like a no-brainer that if there was a way to reach hundreds of thousands more people with your TV ad by changing nothing at all, and only adding some extra words, heard on the SAP channel where audio description in the U.S. is broadcast, wouldn’t you want to do it? Imagine corporations being able to deliver their message directly to the 13-plus percent of the U.S. population with severe visual impairments. Recent demographic data from the American Foundation for the Blind confirms that an estimated 32.2 million adult Americans (or about 13% of all adult Americans) reported they either “have trouble” seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, or that they are blind or unable to see at all. Here is a significant population that has previously been ignored by other major brands. Imagine being able to do this by increasing your media budget by roughly 0.0001% to boost your audience significantly.
This progressive business strategy does exist, and it has been successfully implemented by Procter & Gamble. In the U.S., we are waiting for other forward-thinking corporations to join industry leader Comcast, which has stepped forward and embraced the economic philosophy of inclusion in advertising. There have been a limited number of corporations with commercials including audio description in the U.S. — joining Comcast are such corporations as Kimberly-Clark (i.e., Kleenex), Walmart, Enterprise Car Rental, just to name a few.
It’s time that the U.S. stepped up and joined the U.K. in setting the stage for audio description in television advertising. Here in the U.S., we would need to turn to the Federal Communications Commission to develop guidelines for audio description in advertising, similar to the requirements already in place for ads in general. In the U.K., audio-described ads must follow the scrutiny of the Advertising Standards Authority and its guidelines.
According to the ASA guidelines, “audio description should include any essential visual elements, for example, on-screen text, which qualifies spoken claims.”
It should be noted that no audience has ever been recognized as asking for advertising. Yet, companies are still producing commercials. It therefore seems incumbent on corporations doing business to think about the market of blind and visually impaired viewers of television — and their friends and family members, and step up and begin including audio description in your commercials. What other market share has ever reached out and asked for advertising? Corporations need to approach this issue as fundamentally the right thing to do. It can grow your business share, and it demonstrates corporate inclusiveness and responsibility.
The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) does not presently have a position on the audio description of commercials. The number of audio-described commercials is beginning to increase because of industry leaders like Procter & Gamble and many others, and ACB urges NAB to set an example and encourage its broadcasters to pass through audio-described commercials that are beginning to appear in the U.S. television market.
ACB is beginning its journey on the audio-described commercials path, and we will be reaching out to U.S. corporations and those global corporations that advertise in the U.S. to begin including audio description in their television advertising.
According to Latif, “We are on a journey to expanding and making this process sustainable, but there’s a lot of education work to do.” ACB is determined to make audio description on commercials happen, especially with partners like the U.K., Samaira Latif and Procter & Gamble.
As people who are blind and visually impaired, having experienced that feeling of being left out and left behind when viewing advertising, and not being able to be a part of a shared cultural conversation, ACB must work to develop a plan of action for the future to work with partners to engage broadcasters and start the conversation about audio description among industry advertisers. Stay tuned and keep visiting www.acb.org/adp/commercials.