JCPenney Displays Real Size Mannequins in its Manhattan Mall Sto
In-Store Marketing

Mannequins Are Moving Towards Inclusion

I’m a fan of wax museums not because I can stand next to a likeness of Al Roker or David Beckham, but because I share a unique bond with the figures in that we all have glass eyes. These sculpted interpretations of icons are painstakingly modeled to incorporate the finest details and real-world physical differences unique to each individual.

But if we transition from the inside of a museum and wax figures to in-store marketing with mannequins, where does disability fit in?

Studies have shown that in-store purchase intent increases considerably for apparel and accessories placed on mannequins…which are often stylized in a way that strives for the most idealized self – fit, thin, young and what most people would consider perfect.

From the Dove Real Beauty campaign to the Cheerios’ commercial featuring a mixed race family we’re seeing more inclusion of real people, situations, diversity and disability in commercials and advertising, but does this growing inclusion movement within marketing translate to the in-store shopping experience and mannequins?

JC Penney recently unveiled how they are taking a step towards reflecting a broader diversity in their mannequin appearances. According to a recent NBC News article:

Shoppers in New York City are celebrating five unique mannequins in the store windows of JCPenney. The national retailer is showcasing the mannequins, including the model of a woman in a wheelchair, a man with dwarfism and a double leg amputee, which were specially designed for TODAY’s “Love Your Selfie” series.

The mannequins are modeled after:

  • Dawna Callahan, who uses a wheelchair because of paralysis;
  • Neil Duncan, a former Army paratrooper who lost parts of both legs in Afghanistan;
  • Ricardo Gil, who has dwarfism;
  • Desiree Hunter, a 6-1 1/2 basketball player;
  • and Beth Ridgeway, a plus-size mother.

The Today Show and JC Penney were inspired by a video of mannequins modeled on people with disabilities that went viral last year. Pro Infirmis, a Swiss nonprofit dedicated to helping people with disabilities, created several real-world sculpted mannequins to reflect bodies of people with physical disabilities for “Because Who is Perfect? Get Closer”, a project to raise awareness of the lack of representation of people with disabilities in fashion and retail.

Could changing the appearance of mannequins change the way we feel about ourselves? YES. Marketers have an opportunity to embrace diversity and disability in the design of their mannequins to better promote greater awareness, inclusion and respect for broader customer segments.

Down Syndrome

The Gift of Inclusion

Like so many other boys and girls this time of year, Izzy Bradley is excited about the prospect of opening presents, but what’s unique about two-year-old Izzy’s story is that her enthusiasm, captured in a Target ad has now been shared by millions of people.

Target flyer featuring Izzy Bradley

Target flyer featuring Izzy Bradley

The biggest gift that Izzy Bradley is promoting in the Target ad isn’t the Zaney Zoo activity cube, but because Izzy has Down Syndrome, she’s able to share the gift of inclusion for families of children with disabilities. So few advertisers are willing to encourage greater visibility and awareness, but Target saw an opportunity to do just that.

According to WCCS, CBS Minnesota, Target contacted the Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network asking for pictures of kids with disabilities who’d be interested in modeling. CBS coverage included interviewing Izzy’s mom Heather Bradley who shared, “I really appreciate Target’s policy of including them in their ads. I think it really normalizes Down syndrome and helps people to see we’re really just like any other family. I really just hope that if a new mom, or an expectant mom, were to see a little girl in an ad that they would just have that sense of hope for their child, and that they would know really there’s a great future for them.”

For many advertisers, the holidays mark the biggest season where the advertising has to be perfect. From Norman Rockwell’s romanticized covers of the Saturday Evening Post to the famous Coca-cola Santa and polar bear ads and the Eveready Bunny who’s batteries power presents under the tree, this season’s advertising is often highly curated so that everything is flawless and perfect.

Every family has their own version of perfect though, and because of that, there’s a wonderful opportunity for more advertisers to be inclusive. Millions of holiday shoppers in some way are connected to people with disabilities and their family’s version of perfect might include seeing a child with Down Syndrome smiling at Santa, an amputee embracing his wife, or even a boy with a prosthetic eye dreaming about Legos.

This holiday consider the gift of inclusion by encouraging visibility and voice for people with  disabilities.


Inspiration & Insight From Hill Holliday Creative Director

Dave Banta, EVP and Group Creative Director at Hill Holliday shared some powerful insights during a phone interview about the Liberty Mutual campaign that I’ve also blogged about in the past two posts. Dave’s background spans more than 25 years in advertising at different agencies across the country, he’s been creative director on Liberty Mutual’s account for 3 ½  of his 4 ½ years at Hill Holliday.

Did you get any pushback – either internally or from the client?
“There was a little anxiety – when we do these things we do them with the best intentions – we do these things to make a point that is true. We wanted an accurate story. You have to ask yourself – are you leveraging a person with disability to make a brand look good? i.e. using her disability to make ourselves look better in the commercial or are we making an accurate real commercial.”

How did you and your team conceive of the idea?
“Liberty Mutual’s platform is responsibility so the idea is to celebrate the customers’ responsibility while sharing the company’s own – service – treating customers the way they need to. As a company and brand the campaign says that Liberty Mutual is standing up during this era of corporate malfeasance.

The responsibility idea originated with the first spot – small acts add up to make a difference – this kind of pay it forward spot – one person does a responsible act and another person witnesses / participates and does their own responsible thing and it comes full circle.

We ran that ad and it got traction – the company was very selflessly putting out this message of responsibility among the category’s clutter of spots among examples including telling people they could save $400 in 15 minutes.

The Election ad with Teal Sherer took one person who is responsible and followed only her throughout the ad – this person has every excuse to not do her civic duty but she continues on regardless and votes – where able bodied people potentially would be apathetic. The thought is the viewer would watch that and with only one person’s story in the ad, viewers would pay it forward and create a virtual circle connecting back to the responsible act in the commercial.

After testing we found out that people still like seeing the multiple people’s interaction / circle acted out so we did more of those spots and now you see the sight impaired woman in the Liberty Mutual spot.”

What sparked this creative idea?
“Including the woman in the spot came from a personal experience. I take the train everyday into Boston and I usually ride in the same passenger car as a blind man along with his seeing eye dog. What surprises me every day is the people who help him AND those who don’t. Some people will help him through doors and offer him a seat and some won’t. Thinking about paying forward the responsibility theme, it’s also interesting to watch reactions of people when they see others assisting him – or watching people’s reactions to those that don’t. We weren’t making judgements – there are people who will step up and help people eregardless of any circumstance they do the right thing.”

What got you to come back to Liberty Mutual with another PWD in this most recent spot?
“For Liberty Mutual, we’ve always tried to accurately represent the target audience and that is everybody and being inclusive is just about accurately representing the target audience.”

How come more advertising isn’t inclusive of people with disabilities?
“Sometimes people think companies are using people with disabilities, PWD’s, just to leverage emotion for personal brand benefit for the corporation. People ask the question – are we taking advantage of the disability for emotions to sell a product?

There are innovative, contemporary companies out there that build there brands around risk and then there are the majority of risk averse and I think they look at the legal implications and they shy away from it and then there is an implication to the product that potentially may be negative. Anytime you put out an ad it is a risk – because there is no universal acceptance people may criticize it. We believed we were doing it with the best intentions regardless of their disability.

You want to be true to people who are watching the commercial – a lot of times clients want aspirational worlds of perfection. There is this fantasy world where people can watch where no one really exists. I like to be true and real with storytelling – so I think if you are going to be accurately representing the population then you should include everybody and PWD’s are part of that. Diversity isn’t just in the big cities – it’s in small towns, it’s everywhere.”


Liberty Mutual’s Responsibility Revolution

I believe advertising can start a revolution. After interviewing Teal Sherer and getting her take as an actor in the commercial, I was fortunate enough to interview Jennifer Anderson, Marketing Manager with Liberty Mutual, who shared more insights from the advertiser’s perspective.

Prior to hiring Teal, Jennifer mentioned that her team worked with a non-profit media organization to ensure that the disability would be portrayed correctly and with as much realism as possible. The team at Liberty Mutual also made the decision to hire a person with disability, PWD, actor as opposed to a fully able actor portraying a PWD. “We were overwhelmed by Teal’s response and participation. Teal worked with our team and the agency to share how she really went through her daily routine – capturing for us every detail.”

Jennifer says that “The goal of the TV ad was to align Liberty Mutual and the value of doing the right thing – which may not be the easy thing – regardless of ability.”

Jennifer went on to inform me about a new Liberty Mutual brand ad and inclusion of a PWD within one of their newest commercials. Here, you’ll see the spot, which features a blind woman – whom Liberty Mutual did cast a blind woman – and her experiences and interactions with others on her daily commute. Working with the Braille Institute, Jennifer and her team made sure that the spot incorporated the same attention to detail as the earlier ‘Election’ by including the right kind of guidance stick. Below is a link to the commercial.

Jennifer informed me that the initial idea was sparked by Liberty Mutual’s advertising agency, Hill Holliday. “We loved the idea and we wanted to make sure that when including someone with a disability we showed them as very capable. Even with things that made the situation in the ad a little more challenging –  such as the rain, waiting at a bus stop, gated access to the voting site – that these challenges could be overcome.”

“When Hill Holliday presented the concept for the latest ad, we were excited.  Again, we wanted to ensure that the people we cast are real and in real situations. We want it to be true to life. It was very rewarding to be in touch and to learn about a person with a disability’s daily life and to portray it in a way that doesn’t convey weakness. Instead, we were sure to depict someone going through everyday routines with pride and responsibility.”


Teal Sherer Actress & Advocate

I had the privilege to interview Teal Sherer, to learn how she brings conviction, visibility and voice to both her career in acting and support of disability inclusion and awareness. Originally from Lenoir City, Tennessee, Teal is an L.A. based actor, producer, and activist for performers with disabilities. Her film, TV, online and theatre work includes the Emmy Award-Winning HBO Film Warm Springs, starring Kenneth Branagh, I’m With Stupid an NBC series developed by The Farelly Brothers and on-stage performances with, among others, Dustin Hoffman. Closer to main the theme of this blog centering on advertising and disability, in 2008 Teal starred in the highly acclaimed Liberty Mutual commercial, Election.

Teal shared that the casual and conversational audition for the commercial carried over into the production and many subtle moments within the spot. Wanting to keep the commercial authentic, the production team took Teal’s lead on key aspects. With no dialogue, Teal conveys a relaxed, yet determined mindset as she moves through typical life moments along her path toward the final scene of her voting.

“It was kind of like a short film and it was really exciting to be a part of such a great message  -something groundbreaking. You rarely see people with disabilities in advertising so to see someone with a disability in the lead of a commercial is nice,” says Teal. She goes on to say that “It has a cool simplicity to it. As a disabled person I’m not overcoming some big obstacle, but it shares an authentic, normal part of my day, just like any other day.”

Teal’s advocacy efforts include participation as a member of the Screen Actors Guild Performers with Disabilities Committee and the I AM PWD campaign. Recently her involvement included a panel discussion on redefining disability in the media and shared that:

“If we’re not in the media how do people know we exist?  Media in whatever form – movies, TV shows, online series and advertising can open your eyes to disability, but a lot of people don’t think about including disability and it is left out of discussions of diversity and minorities. Shows may be ethnically diverse but I think a lot of time disability gets left out. Media affects society more than anything else. It is our gateway to other people and situations and circumstances and disability needs to be a part of it.”

“People may think that it will be a hassle to accommodate us on set or have other fears that we are sick, in pain – often disability has negative associations. In fact, disability often doesn’t complicate life – it is just one way of how we are different. Interactions with a person with disability doesn’t require someone to say ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I hope you get better.’ You can have a fabulous, whole life, travel all around the world and play sports and do more than some able-bodied people – disability is not a bad thing.”

To find out more about Teal visit her website at

Commercial, technology

Advertising, Disability and Apple

A blind person interacts with the new iPhone 4S via Siri

With the news of Steve Jobs passing, I among many others, and those in the advertising industry are mourning. Advertising and Apple are intertwined, in the design and branding of the storied computer giant – and in the computers that are the tools used to design the stories of brands.


You probably have read about the iPhone 4S and Siri, which according to Apple’s website:

lets you use your voice to send messages, schedule meetings, place phone calls, and more. Ask Siri to do things just by talking the way you talk. Siri understands what you say, knows what you mean, and even talks back. Siri is so easy to use and does so much, you’ll keep finding more and more ways to use it.

This short video from Apple shares several vignettes where people interact with the iPhone 4S and Siri – my favorite is the last slice-of-life example.

Truly groundbreaking, this device moves well beyond the earlier, yet still impressive, iPhone accessibility options. For many People with Disabilities (PWD’s), this new software integration will create more connections and opportunities. Although still to early to predict the full impact of Siri, for PWD’s it won’t be just a niche component added to a not so upgraded iPhone. I believe that Siri is a revolutionary tool that will herald more technology breakthroughs allowing for universal design and inclusive benefit for PWD’s and those with full abilities.

You probably have a favorite TV commercial if you are reading this blog and part of the advertising world. If this isn’t your top pick – it should be up there. In 1984, this cinematic masterpiece directed by Ridley Scott and appearing only once, launched both Apple’s Macintosh and denizens of devoted followers.

Steve Jobs’ entrepreneurial innovations, higher design aesthetic and mantra to think differently will continue on. If you consider it, those innovations, design aesthetic and ability to think differently are part of an everyday mindset for People with Disabilities.

Universal Design

Start At Home, Rebuild Together & Recognize Disability

If you became disabled, could you continue living in your house? I was fortunate enough to find out first-hand about an organization coming to my community that would provide insights and assistance toward answering that question.

HGTV, together with the support of Scripps Networks Interactive and the City of Knoxville, are bringing a local chapter of Rebuilding Together to this community. The kick off event held at Scripps headquarters brought representatives from Rebuilding Together, show hosts, community leaders, media and people with disabilities (including myself) together to learn more about these great opportunities ahead for those in need in the Knoxville housing community.

Rebuilding Together is the nation’s leading nonprofit working to preserve affordable homeownership and revitalize communities. The organization’s network of more than 200 affiliates provides free rehabilitation and critical repairs to the homesof low-income Americans. Rebuilding Together believes in a safe and healthy home for every person. This means that we believe disabled and aging homeowners should be able to remain in their homes for as long as possible.

Josh Loebner, Advertising & Disability blogger (left) and Gary Officer, President & CEO of Rebuilding Together

“Helping to launch a local affiliate of Rebuilding Together gives our employees a chance to participate in our national philanthropic cause and truly ‘Start at Home’ by making a difference in our own community,” said Jim Samples, president of HGTV in a recent press release.

Josh Loebner (left) and Stephanie Cook is the City of Knoxville’s Disability Services Coordinator and liaison to the Mayor’s Council on Disability Issues.

Advertising goes well beyond traditional media placements in magazines or TV spots to also incorporate experiential branding – such as in-store experiences and interactions with employees. Lowe’s, a strong supporter of Rebuilding Together, and, according to the National Organization on Disability (NOD) has a long-time commitment to hiring people with disabilities and utilizes both and the public vocational rehabilitation network to build awareness of the company’s job opportunities for people with disabilities. “We draw on the strength of collaboration, bringing together many unique individuals in the workplace and the community to better meet the needs of our employees and our customers. “At Lowe’s, inclusion means creating a place where everyone has the opportunity to grow and succeed.” – Steve Szilagyi, Senior Vice President

Lowe's and Rebuilding Together® have successfully completed more than 350 rebuilding projects together since 2007.

With community outreach efforts such as the Rebuilding Together initiative, HGTV’s tagline ‘Start At Home’ is coming to life for many people with disabilities. Advertisers as well as the networks have an opportunity to foster integration within programming, commercials and other brand platforms. You can help to recognize disability by starting at home and rebuilding together.

One in five Americans is disabled – but one in five ads isn’t inclusive. You can help bring visibility and voice to this rarely discussed topic. Please share this post with five others.