The ad industry is pretty woeful when it comes to depicting people with disabilities - are brands really content to ignore 15% of the world's population?
The Paralympic Games kicked off this week and in the UK the industry has responded to a challenge thrown down by Channel 4 to increase the representation of disability in advertising. The winning campaign from AMV BBDO, Biscuit Filmworks and Maltesers is cheeky, human and thankfully devoid of mawkishness. The spots have made a splash with the public, but we hope that their effect will ripple outwards to the rest of the industry.
Despite the industry's constant handwringing about diversity, disability is weirdly absent from panels, op-eds and campaign groups. Advertising and marketing has a long way to go before representation in the industry and on screen is anywhere near reflective of the real world. If we do see disability it's in the context of sob stories and inspiring superheroes - what the Maltesers have done so well is that the spots are utterly human. As they should be. Obviously. I don’t know why it’s had to take a media owner giving away £1million of free ad space to kick brands and creatives into motion.
Those who watched the opening ceremony might also have seen other brands getting involved - official sponsors Samsung and Nissan included Team GB Paralympians. Samsung's ongoing Jack Whitehall-fronted campaign saw him play up to the comedian’s posh boy image with Paralympic Dressage equestrians. But this conversation needs to continue far beyond the Paralympics. This isn’t a pat-on-the-back moment. It’s a see-what’s-possible-what-on-earth-was-stopping us moment.
According to the World Bank 15% of the world’s population experiences some form of disability. That’s one billion people. One billion. I’ll admit I haven’t yet crunched the numbers but I’d estimate that the proportion of people shown in advertising and marketing communications that have a disability… is significantly less than 15%. Are brands just not interested in talking to 15% of humanity? Would brands claim that they want to be authentic and truthful just prefer to blank out 15% of reality?
It will be interesting to see which brands, agencies and casting directors around the world take this opportunity to question their unconscious biases and get real.