Where Taco Bell's Potato CEO Failed

It's a matter of accessibility in video messaging

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Taco Bell CEO Mark King, as a talking potato, was clear and candid in explaining why potatoes had been removed from the lineup in the first place.

His video, complete with filter, had a very fun young vibe to it. It even featured popular sound effects like the DJ airhorn and a chime that played when King offered the audience a cheeky wink.

However, one thing that was noticeably missing from Taco Bell’s announcement on the potato comeback was captioning. Neither closed nor open captions were used in the final video. Some users were quick to point out that this wasn’t just a marketing fail—it’s a widely recognized fact that 85% of videos on the internet are watched with sound off—but an accessibility fail as well.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), roughly 466 million people around the world are deaf or hard of hearing. Captioning is a necessity to these individuals when it comes to consuming videos, and forgetting to add subtitles is akin to forgetting a significant portion of your audience.

Closed or open

There are two options for captions, open or closed. Open captions are burned directly onto a video in post-production and cannot be turned off by a viewer. Closed captions, sometimes called subtitles, can be toggled on and off and are commonly seen on YouTube, Vimeo and most streaming services.

In regards to captions for social media, some platforms have made the leap to auto-captioning like Facebook did with its Facebook Live feature and Instagram with videos uploaded to IGTV. YouTube even makes it easy to close caption videos directly in YouTube Studio, and there are plenty of mobile apps out there for open captioning like MixCaptions and AutoCap.

Unfortunately, even with all of the above, there’s still a long way to go before social media is fully accessible for users who have disabling hearing loss, and that’s something that needs to be recognized by everyone at brands and organizations, not just the digital team.

Brand leaders take on more active roles

It’s certainly been fun to see some brand leadership taking on more active roles when it comes to engaging with their audience like King did for this video or when Ocean Spray president and CEO Tom Hayes hopped on the TikTok bandwagon. Now they need to take it a step further and start being more aware of how their audience is—or in this case, isn’t—consuming that content they’re so excited to share.

The lack of captions on the Taco Bell announcement should not be marked as a failure that solely belongs to the social media team. In fact, the social media team shouldn’t even be responsible for the creation of captions. In an ideal world, captions would have been implemented by the production team, delivered with the video to the social media team for posting, and, most importantly, expected by the C-suite.

Digital accessibility should be a priority for everyone involved in the marketing process, no matter where they sit on the company org chart. Being conscious of how inclusive your content is means better marketing and a better overall experience for your entire audience.

Editor’s Note: Taco Bell listened to its customers and re-shared the video Thursday afternoon with captions.