Audio description in TV advertising: What is it and what are the key benefits for brands?



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December 18, 2023 | 7 min read

You may have noticed that we’ve been working hard lately to encourage the industry to consider people with differing needs when making TV ads

With more than 1 billion people worldwide living with some form of disability, it makes logical sense for brands, broadcasters and creative agencies to ensure that ads are accessible for the widest possible audience.

There are lots of ways you can do this. From thinking outside the box with your creative, to including access services like British Sign Language (BSL) or subtitles. And while we’ve spoken at length about the – fairly simple, yet hugely beneficial – addition of subtitles, here we’ll be focusing on a service which can help a different group of people: audio description (AD).

There are over 2 million people in the UK living with sight loss. But it’s estimated that only 40% of ads have subtitles, with even fewer offering AD. As such a large chunk of the landscape are missing this feature, below we present three key benefits to encourage you to join the few that do offer it. Plus, we’ve outlined just what AD really is and how to get it made.

The benefits of audio description

1. Social responsibility

Help an otherwise excluded group engage with something that so many of us take for granted. To put it simply, it’s a good thing to do.

2. Further reach

You’ve spent plenty of time and effort creating the perfect ad. So, why then limit the chances of it reaching a potential 2 million extra people in this untapped market?

3. Brand loyalty

Demonstrate empathy and commitment to people living with sight loss. Showing you share their values can resonate with potential customers and promote long-term brand loyalty.

AD demystified

What is it?

Created as an additional audio track which can be switched on by the TV user, AD narrates any essential information found in the visuals, allowing blind or visually impaired people to comprehend the ad. This descriptive commentary exploits pauses in the soundtrack to weave in explanations of characters, actions, locations, facial expressions, body language, costumes or text.

Doing it well

The tricky part though, is not only conveying the on-screen action succinctly and clearly, but making it an enjoyable experience too. Really successful AD can convey the overall feel or vibe of an ad, perhaps with a charismatic performance from the actor, without compromising on key information taken away. Try listening to your ad with your eyes closed and asking yourself ‘how can I capture their attention without visuals?’

Overcoming the barriers

All of this must fit into the time limit of the ad’s duration – that’s no mean feat. But don’t let the limitations put you off. Much like other potential barriers, if you consider different needs at conception stage, it can be overcome with good planning and creativity. One of the main recommendations to come out of our accessibility survey results, was that “working in costs and [deciding] which features of accessibility you’d like to use, as early as possible” is the leading factor to achieving success. Also remember that sometimes less is more, as Dave Williams from RNIB explained during our Ad Accessibility Training “a few well-chosen words can be enough.”

Getting it made


Ideally you should start working on your AD track at the start of the process. This allows enough time for your chosen supplier to do the writing and recording, and for us to clear it. Unlike subtitles, which don’t need separate clearance as they often reflect the same content already being assessed in the ad, AD does need clearance of its own. If for any reason you don’t opt for AD until after the ad has been made, you should allow at least three to four days, in case it needs any changes or rounds of approval.


Zoo Digital are a great option, but there are many to choose from. You can find a directory of providers with The Audio Description Association (ADA), as well as other great resources, best practices and information.


When you upload your final clocked ad to The Library, you’ll be asked whether it includes AD. Slide this toggle to ‘yes’ and upload the file – it’s as simple as that. If your AD track needs edits in alignment with script changes however, you’ll need to provide a new track. So, make sure you keep in contact with your provider to ensure a smooth process.

As the industry continues to grow, we all share a responsibility to shape the narrative around accessibility. Commit to your part of the change and the world will become a better place, one ad at a time.

Your next accessibility steps

If you’re interested in making sure your ads are accessible and want to learn more about the topic, take our recommended next steps below.



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