Should Brands Use Captions and Subtitles in Video Content for Stories?

Instagram says no, but it's more complicated than that

Verizon Media and Publicis Media found that 80% of people who use captions were more likely to watch an entire video. - Credit by Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin
Headshot of David Cohen

Instagram said users view 60% of videos in Stories with the sound on … which means they view 40% with the sound off.

The problem? “Advertisers are on the hook to pay after three seconds,” Jeff Semones, MediaCom head of social media, told Adweek. “Most often, those three seconds will occur with the sound off. People who can’t watch with the sound off will swipe away quickly, affect the algorithm and make advertisers pay more to reach fewer people or show brands’ organic content to fewer people.”

Danisha Lomax, vp and director of paid social at Digitas North America, said brands are starting to incorporate the use of captions into their best practices in order to ensure that people are digesting the content they’re visually consuming. Some use third-party tools that add captions and subtitles to their videos in order to better reach those viewing them without audio, but is this the best approach? An Instagram spokesperson said subtitles are not included in its best practices for Stories. Instead, the platform recommends the use of features such as text added via its platform, polls and GIFs.

But why not just add captions just in case? It may seem like a simple task, but while creating content for each individual platform is considered to be the optimal approach, not every brand has the resources, financial or otherwise, to accomplish this. MediaCom social marketing strategist Dani Klein said clients with limited budgets often ask to have existing assets repurposed for Stories, or for Instagram’s IGTV long-form video destination, and adding text captions is often part of that process.

McGarryBowen Chicago director of strategy Kevin Kovanich said that Stories are more of a sound-on environment than in-feed posts on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, and the format doesn’t lend itself to long brand narratives that need a lot of dialog. “Captions look super out-of-place in Stories,” he added. “Consumers aren’t using them, so neither should brands. We’re trying to connect with people in Stories, not stick out like a sore thumb.”

Additionally, Kovanich’s colleague, McGarryBowen New York executive director of strategy Laura Chavoen, pointed out that once an Instagram user taps for sound, the audio stays on until that user disables it. “Thoughtful sound creative becomes even more important, as a single mediocre experience could drive that ‘sound off tap’ for future brand creative, or even create a negative reaction to the brand regardless of the creative,” she said. “I believe the days of always creating for ‘sound-off’ for social creative are beginning to wane, as consumers are listening, and creators and creative continue to evolve.”

On the other hand, a study by Verizon Media and Publicis Media found that 69% of people view videos without sound when they are in public places, and 25% do so when they are in private locations. Additionally, 80% of people who use captions are more likely to watch an entire video when captions were provided. That’s why Periscope takes a different approach. Its social creative director, Bridget Jewell, said her agency takes into account the fact that so many people watch videos without sound, so “a lot of the content we’re creating isn’t dependent upon sound. It’s not required to get the message across.”


david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.
Publish date: May 23, 2019 https://dev.adweek.com/digital/should-brands-use-captions-and-subtitles-in-video-content-for-stories/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT