Should Digital Video Commercials Come with Subtitles?

Robin KentThis guest post is by Robin Kent, Founder of The Fearless Group, an Advertising Consultancy, former Chairman & CEO of Universal McCann, and member of the dotSUB Board of Advisors.

If the purpose of advertising is to grab the consumer’s attention, how do you do this with over 48 hours of content being uploaded to YouTube every minute?

One way is targeting. It has always been important, but in this new overcrowded environment it is more vital than ever before.  The good news is there are plenty of techniques and data for ensuring advertisers get this right more often than they get it wrong.  Assuming advertisers get the targeting right, is that enough to ensure the consumer understands and acts upon the message?  Perhaps, but could subtitles ensure more consumers see and understand the message. That is a question worth exploring.

Let’s first look at the global world of advertising. In 2011 it’s estimated that $460 Billion will be spent on advertising trying to convince consumers to try new products, stay loyal to existing ones, maybe switch to a competitor’s brand or upgrade to a newer, better, faster version and in general just consume more.

Today only a small portion of this spend will go to video online, but it is never the less an important sector and one which is growing rapidly.  In 2011 digital video advertising in the USA is estimated to be worth $2 billion doubling to $4 billion by 2013.

Advertising is predominantly a local business.  By that I mean although the major global brands sell a similar product market to market, they are very much locally managed, often locally produced and packaged to account for local languages and laws.  Because each market is expected to be profitable from local sales, marketing budgets are also created locally and this often leads to locally produced ads.  In other words, Coca-Cola ads are not necessarily the same market to market. For example, in Spain it’s Coke Light and in the USA Diet Coke—same product, but a very different spin on the values, benefits and image portrayed.

Why is this?  We often hear today that as global consumers we have more in common than not. This may be true of certain brands such as Gucci, Patek Philippe, Porsche, Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton, Singapore Airlines or Emirates Air. However, the majority of the world’s six billion people consume local brands or local variations of global brands. When little children from China visit America for the first time they’re shocked when they see a familiar fast food chain.  “They’ve got McDonald’s here, too?”

If we accept that the vast majority of consumers consume local brands (even if they’re often from global advertisers), then advertising should speak to them in their own language taking into account the local nuances and customs.

But good advertising can be expensive to create.  So can bad advertising, but that’s a discussion for another time.  For a TV or video commercial every second must count.  Actors, locations, directors and film crews all cost money. To shoot an individual commercial for every country is prohibitively expensive for most advertisers, even some of the biggest.  Just because the budget in the USA can justify a “Hollywood” style production, that’s most likely beyond the reach of markets such as Chile, Vietnam, or India.  But the brand’s values must be adhered to wherever the brand exists.

One solution is subtitling. For a small additional cost a video commercial could be made for, say, India’s official 22 recognized languages without losing the power film has over other forms of advertising—the ability to tell a story, using sight, sound, movement, drama and humor.

As an advertiser in the USA do you make a version in English and one for the fast-growing Hispanic population or use subtitles to reduce the cost?

Each advertiser must decide based on the many factors that define their brands, but I think subtitling should at least be considered.написать текст на фотометро газета объявленийpochtolom exe скачать

  • Swapnildixit

    Let us say I am an English speaker watching a video whose audio is in English. Now, I can pay a little bit of my attention to a small ad running at the bottom, since even when I watch the ad, I will not lose the storyline, since at least I am connected through the audio part. However, when I am watching a video with which my only connect is the subtitle, and I need to keep reading in order to understand what is going on, an ad at the bottom or top can be extremely extremely distracting. I would rather have an ad (only if the revenue from ads is required to sustain the enterprise of the video maker) in the middle/ beginning/ end of the entire video. This way, I will see the ad, and I will also see the video. Moreover, creative people can take a shot at where exactly to place an ad to make it the most relevant/ humorous etc. Regards, Swapnil

  • Odie

    Absolutely, as long as attention is paid to the quality of subtitling – bad subtitling of course can quickly turn your very good ad into a very bad one. This seems obvious and is of course true for all forms of translation/adaptation of commercial ads. However, the danger is more marked in subtitling. Unfortunately, as is well known, the current trend in mainstream subtitling is to pressurize translators to work for dumping prices and to ridiculous short deadlines and many – most? – professional subtitlers have changed career. On the other hand, if quality is demanded by the client and rewarded accordingly, subtitling commercial ads might develop into a new, lucrative market for professional subtitlers.  And of course clients would benefit from having their ads subtitled in a professional manner.  

  • Odie

    Absolutely, as long as attention is paid to the quality of subtitling – bad subtitling of course can quickly turn your very good ad into a very bad one. This seems obvious and is of course true for all forms of translation/adaptation of commercial ads. However, the danger is more marked in subtitling. Unfortunately, as is well known, the current trend in mainstream subtitling is to pressurize translators to work for dumping prices and to ridiculous short deadlines and many – most? – professional subtitlers have changed career. On the other hand, if quality is demanded by the client and rewarded accordingly, subtitling commercial ads might develop into a new, lucrative market for professional subtitlers.  And of course clients would benefit from having their ads subtitled in a professional manner.  

  • Crazy4boats2

    NO!

  • Le Chat

    I’m from Taiwan, and sometimes our commercials have subtitles. And I feel them pretty helpful in learning new words while was a kid. Yet, subtitles may distract people’s attention to only the lower part of the screen, the supposed to be “salient” part that attracts audience’s visual attention may lose its power a bit, and thus, may influence the efficiency of the commercial. This is my guess, need scientific proves to support the idea 🙂

  • http://twitter.com/jesusmaroto jesusmaroto

    Subtitling is an option, unless there are major cultural issues portrayed in the images that could negatively affect the impact of the brand in the target market, something that shouldn´t be understated! Check my papers on this matter at http://www.globalpropaganda.com/articles.html

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