Olympics, Paralympics

Britain Wins Gold For Disability Adverts

Pictured in the featured image are USA athlete Tatyana McFadden and British athletes Hannah Cockcroft and Melissa Nichols celebrating victories and holding up their respective country’s flag.

But what if the Paralympics competitions expanded into awarding medals for each country’s best inclusion of people with disabilities in advertising? Britain would be leagues ahead of the U.S.A., and here’s why.

While one of the most remembered Olympic ads from Nike featured Kyle Maynard, the first quadruple amputee to climb Mount Kilimanjaro without prosthetics, there were some challenges with the ad.

Described in a recent Adweek article, “the spot opens with Maynard climbing a snowy mountain peak as the voiceover says, “Here is a man, working hard, pushing his limits.” He then asks Maynard if he has “got this,” with the mountaineer replying in the affirmative, only to be taken aback when the camera pans out to reveal that Maynard is making the climb sans arms and legs. “Oh really? I must have left them at home,” Maynard replies when he says, “You don’t have legs either!?”

Seeing Kyle climb is inspirational, but is it the right kind of inspiration or the best inclusion? What if Kyle was another minority; a woman, person of color or LGBTQ and the voice over, instead of saying “you don’t have arms” said, in a shocked tone, “you’re black and you’re on a mountain?” This portrayal, to an extent, presents an oversimplified and one-dimensional representation of a person with a disability, or any other minority.

I also don’t believe inclusion works to its fullest when only the minority, in this case, a person with a disability, is the primary focus.

This is where British candy brand Maltesers, truly won the day, by being inclusive, in everyday situations. Adweek’s Tim Nudd, shared that “the spots are very well done, and manage the difficult trick of helping to normalize disability, through funny and relatable anecdotes, without taking away from the very real challenges that disabled people face. That lighthearted approach should help viewers think about disability in a more open way.”

According to a press release on BBC Channel 4, “Rather than creating distance by putting disabled people on a pedestal, we believed we could achieve more by showing disabled people simply as… people,” says Cat Collins, strategy partner at AMV BBDO. “For Maltesers, that meant seeking out the hilarious stories from their lives that they look on the light side of, just as the characters in the rest of our campaign do. It meant using a powerful weapon to break down discomfort, division and prejudice—a good laugh.”

Adds Lisa Quinlan-Rahman, director of external affairs at disability charity Scope: “We know comedy is a great way to shine a light on the awkwardness that many people feel about disability. We hope Maltesers’ use of humor in these adverts will get people thinking differently about disability and help break down the barriers that many disabled people face. But life isn’t always full of laughs, and we’ve worked very closely with Mars to ensure the adverts reflect the experiences of disabled people. Disabled people come from an incredibly diverse array of backgrounds. They rarely see their lives reflected in marketing campaigns, the media, in advertising and in public culture.”

My question to that last sentence is why?