Have you seen the Benz branded bionics? Disability and advertising made it into the headlines of Adweek, one of the industry’s leading news publications, when Matthew James, a 14-year-old British amputee, wrote to Mercedes Benz asking the automaker to help fund a new one. Believe it or not, the German luxury car manufacturer agreed to the offer and granted his wish by paying $57,000 for the digit device. In return, Matthew will advertise for the brand with the all-to-recognizable encircled tri-point logo emblazoned on his prosthetic hand. Exemplifing the advertiser’s efforts toward the best or nothing, this is a great example of how brands can connect with disability in an honest, positive and inclusive way.
Here are two other examples of amputees in advertising and media that received similar headline grabbing attention. The BBC reported that they had received more than 800 complaints after British children’s TV show host Cerrie Burnell appeared on the show. Born without part of her arm, Cerrie can easily share conversations with children when they ask why she’s different. Parents, on the other hand, wrote into the show complaining that they did not want their children viewing ‘imperfection’, and others went so far as to claim their children were terrified when seeing her disability. According to a recent BBC article, Cerrie “says she doesn’t take this personally but these kind of comments highlight the prejudice that disabled people face.” I can’t stress enough how powerful Cerrie’s message is in this video clip.
Belgian amputee, Tanja Kiewitz exposed herself for CAP48, the leading Belgian charity working for the integration of disabled people, in an awareness and fundraising campaign with this message: “Look into my eyes … I said, my eyes.” The image and message were wildly successful with global news coverage. By the way, Tanja is in the advertising industry – she’s a graphic designer.
People with disabilities (I’ve learned the acronym is PWD) are under-represented in advertising and media – both in the ads and behind the scenes as creators. These examples highlight hurdles that still need to be overcome, but also share major achievements that, together (hand-in-hand), advertising and disability can help to overcome obstacles and foster acceptance.