Advertising is a tricky thing. It is one of the ways in which current culture is promoted. And yet it jumps on fads, giving them undue prominence. This makes it seem overbearing in its earnestness to promote causes.
You have to be able to understand the cynicism of people who are suddenly seeing people from the current “cause” group in their ads – “empowered” women, Muslims, disabled people…even red-haired people. TV viewers, for example, see the same ads over and over and various “earnest” ads one after the other, amping up the overbearing effect.
It’s disquieting – not because these people don’t fit into their ads, don’t have a justifiable reason for being there. They certainly do. But because there’s a pointedness to their sudden inclusion. A heavy-handedness in the intention.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in Canadian agency, Wax’s, social experiment for disabled people. That was not the intention of the campaign.
In the experiment, which was created to coincide with International Day of Persons with Disabilities on December 3, groups of people were shown two commercials in which disabled people feature. Let’s note that it’s quite likely these bog-standard ads, for a laundry detergent and a cereal, probably triggered people’s dislike of advertising. I guess the idea was to show disabled people in ads they were used to (an indictment of advertising’s inability to solve why people allegedly hate ads, perhaps?).
People responded poorly to the inclusion of disabled people in them. Among the responses, were “A bit of a stretch,” and “It just rubs me the wrong way.” One person supposed the disabled people were there for the shock value. As inclusive as everyone wants to be, there has to be a part of every person’s brain which gets their point.
The ads were then reshown, each with a new ending in which the disabled people in the ads talk about their ads being different. “That’s because you’re not used to seeing people with disabilities on a screen,” one woman notes. She is right. “We would like to change that,” another stated. Very fair. The groups of people in the experiment thought so too.
The campaign was triggered by a group of disability-focused organisations from Canada and the United States who published an open letter calling on the media to be more inclusive of people with disabilities. The campaign aimed to change how people see disability by changing what they see in popular media.
Advertising has taken on a tough job on behalf of minority groups. Maybe it’s not doing it the right way?
“Changing the way people view disabilities begins with shifting the culture around on-screen representation of this minority group and continues by opening doors to opportunities to ensure inclusivity,” stated Deborah Calla and Allen Rucker, co-chief executive officers of the Media Access Awards.
Lauren Applebaum, vice president, communications for US-based advocacy group, RespectAbility added, “What we see on screen influences how we act in real life. The entertainment industry has an opportunity to help remove the stigma that currently exists around interacting with individuals who have disabilities,” said Lauren Appelbaum, vice president, communications, RespectAbility.
Both statements are true. What is the right way?
By Candide McDonald, editor
Creative Director: Nick Asik
Design Director: Monique Gamache
Associate Creative Director & Copywriter: Chris Lihou
Copywriter: Jordan Findlayson & Monica Sommerville
Art Directors: Brad Connell & Sam Benesh
Production Artists: Thomas Turner & Tina Song
Strategy Director: Greg Damus
Account Executive: Michala Allen
Production Company: 2 Words Productions
Directors of Photography: Jay Lawrence & Tom Acton
Editor: Jay Lawrence
Camera Assistant: Mark Riddle
Audio: Dan Gretton
Audio Production: 6 Degrees
Audio Director: Dan McManus
Sound Engineer: Peter Irwin
Client: Calgary Society for Persons with Disabilities
Executive Director: Mickey Greiner
Administrative Assistant: Dallal