Two ad campaigns that came out days apart portray people with disabilities in totally different lights…one for the better and one not so good. What this tells me is that we have a long way to go to educate and inform agency creatives and advertisers on best practices to incorporate people with disabilities consistently and positively.
I recognize that the phrase ‘wheelchair bound’ in the headline is poorly worded and not progressive according to disability style guides, but I used this to focus on the fact that the ad industry is still not as progressive as it could be. Neither ad compared in this post is perfect, but hopefully through continued conversations and education, we can all move towards better diversity and inclusion.
The first ad, titled The World’s Biggest A__hole, is from the Martin Agency, spotlighting how everyone should be an organ donor. Yes, it is informative and funny in parts, but I take issue with the how the ad portrays people with disabilities in wheelchairs. Watch the commercial and see if you catch what I mean. It’s literally only for a couple of seconds.
My issue with the commercial comes at about the 1:55 mark where we see a wounded soldier receiving physical therapy. The voice-over says: “His tendons went to Staff Sergeant Donahue, who was able to walk again, and would never need to be pushed across the street by his physical therapist.” The last phrase in the sentence is outright disability shaming.
What bothers me even more is that in the previous two examples in the advertisement, the voice-over does not make any playfully derogatory comments about the father or teacher who received organs, but that with the soldier’s example, it is apparently OK to look down on, joke and shame someone in a wheelchair.
What makes the disability disparaging phrase in this commercial ironic is the voice-over in another campaign featuring someone in a wheelchair.
For the 2016 Olympics, BMW created a chair and commercial to break things.
The voice-over powerfully states, “this chair was built for breaking things, like rules, stereotypes and world records. This chair was built for breaking things, to remind us limits is just a little word that makes a swooshing sound when you pass it. This chair was built for breaking things, tool designed by the world’s best engineers to dismantle, destroy and dominate. Driven by a will of steel and destined to chase gold. This chair was built for breaking things, to re-imagine, rethink and redefine what it means to be an athlete. And once every limit has been passed, every expectation smashed and every record broken, together we will have built something great: the ultimate driving machine.”
To underline its commitment to all Olympians ahead of the 2016 Rio Games, BMW has released “Built for Gold.” According to Adweek, the ad was, “created by KBS, the spot is galvanizing, dramatic and powerful. It stars Josh George, who, drenched in sweat, advances hard under a setting sun … in a BMW-designed performance wheelchair.”
”Over the course of our partnership with Team USA, we have been committed to advancing athletic performance through technology transfer initiatives which help to address their training and equipment needs,” says vp of marketing Trudy Hardy of BMW of North America. “This one is special not only because it presents a unique design challenge, but it helps solve a bigger mobility challenge for our Paralympic athletes.”
Each ad portrays someone in a wheelchair totally opposite the other…the former conveying an anachronism of being wheelchair bound and the latter of a person in a wheelchair being boundless.
What will your advertising do?
I’d love to speak to someone at the Martin Agency and, first, see about having that line of copy removed (it wouldn’t hurt the integrity of the ad a bit), and secondly to share a broader conversation about advertising and disability.