Real Lives: Cashing in on your conscience

In adland, disabled people are suddenly 'sexy'. A cynical marketing ploy or an ethical stand, asks MEG CARTER

In the latest Teletext advert, a hip football supporter heads for the fridge for a beer to celebrate his team's win. Nothing unusual in that except that he picks up the beer bottle with his mouth and high- tails back to the living room - in a wheelchair. The fan grabs your attention, if only because it's so rare to see a disabled person used with a bit of subtlety in a commercial.

This week a new campaign was launched to encourage more advertisers to feature the disabled. Its aim is to make disabled people visible to the rest of the population. But there's more to it than altruism. Now, it seems, disability helps sell your products.

The Co-operative Bank is planning to feature disabled people in a new ad later this year. According to a spokesman, "Co-op positions itself to consumers as the ethical banking choice. Using the disabled is a business decision, in line with our ethical stance".

DIY chain B&Q is approaching disabled staff to feature in its ads. "There are 8 million disabled people in the UK - potential B&Q customers not being served properly," B&Q diversity manager Kay Allen explains. "But the business case is equally strong. The public responds well to companies taking an ethical stance." In other words, make the viewer feel guilty and they might get their credit cards out.

Both companies - along with Marks & Spencer, McDonald's and BT - are part of the VisABLE campaign to feature the disabled in ads. It also involves the launch of a nationwide competition to find more disabled models (like Amy Mullins who modelled for Alexander McQueen). The prize will be the chance to work with a new modelling agency, VisABLE Models.

US research shows that where advertisers demonstrate a positive stance on disability, they sell more products, claim the organisers behind VisABLE. To prove their point, they've done a similar survey in the UK. When asked if they thought an ad featuring a disabled person would be aimed only at a disabled audience, 70 per cent of UK consumers polled said "No"; 80 per cent said they'd welcome disabled people in ads. Just 10 per cent admitted they'd be "less responsive". A positive result, but in reality, the argument for featuring the disabled in advertising is hardly clear- cut.

Sceptics question the validity of such research: who'd own up to the un-PC view that disability is a turn-off? Says one senior ad agency creative who prefers to remain anonymous: "To suggest advertising raises disability awareness is bonkers. It's just about selling products."

Cultural commentator Peter York highlights another problem. "People often misunderstand the way advertising works. They think 'we're under-represented and its some form of discrimination'," he says. "But rather than reflect reality, advertising condenses it into an incredibly short timespan. You just see broad brush strokes."

Mark Lewis, account director at ad agency St Lukes, believes the disabled make for better advertising. He's the person behind the Teletext campaign. Another St Lukes commercial for Fox's biscuits featured images of everyday life - including a child with Down's Syndrome - as did a recent Benetton ad.

"It's delicate ground," he admits. "It's easy to be accused of getting mileage out of a guy in a wheelchair. Which is why we chose not to make a disabled person the campaign's focus."

Others have been more daring. Coca-Cola ran a commercial featuring a blind man at a football match, Fuji an ad with a disabled store assistant.

But it's risky. Shannon Murray, a model paralysed from the waist down, is pro the idea but believes not any old use will do: "The danger is perpetuating the myth that disabled people are 100 per cent reliant on others. Some are but many are independent." (She turned down a recent van ad demonstrating numerous uses for it - including a disabled outing.) "The ideology of a perfect life is prevalent in advertising -and who aspires to being disabled?" she admits. "But I believe advertisers could benefit. And many seem enthusiastic - to your face, at least."

A poster by Durham Constabulary
Arts and Entertainment
books New York Times slammed over summer reading list
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine