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TX: 04.12.03 – WHY ARE THERE SO FEW DISABLED PEOPLE IN ADVERTS?

 

PRESENTER: WINIFRED ROBINSON

ROBINSON
Now when did you last see a disabled person in a television advert? Rack your brains you may recall a few government backed information ads but it won't take you very long. Well the minister for disabled people, Maria Eagle, has accused the advertising agencies of failing to represent the UK's nine million disabled people. She says commercial companies are also missing a financial trick, given that disabled people have huge spending power which they put at £45 billion, according to the Government's own figures. Ministers claim to have put their own house in order with latest figures showing that disabled people now feature in half of all government advertising campaigns. But what about commercial companies? Are advertisers concerned that consumers won't buy products advertised by disabled people or are advertising agencies simply not disability aware?

Well Maria Eagle, the minister for disabled people, says the situation needs improving, despite the fact there are some examples of good practice.

EAGLE
The Freeserve ad on TV with a model who had no legs, something which you only realise as she walked down the catwalk in her rather striking metal scrolls, was incredibly impressive. But actually I saw one of our ads recently, just a billboard ad, in our targeting fraud campaign and it was big crowd of people and there was a circle around the fraudster and right at the front of that ad was a man of short stature going to work with his case, and he's just there in the crowd, and that to me is part of what we're trying to do as well - there's a disabled person on his way to work along with everybody else, it's not exceptional - there he is in the poster, he's just there, like disabled people are in society and that's really what we're trying to reflect.

ROBINSON
The minister for disabled people Maria Eagle. Well we'll be discussing advertising and disability with people from the advertising industry after this break.

MUSIC
REPORTER Do you think people with disabilities are fairly represented in adverts?

VOX POPS We should be reflected more in advertising, we hold down jobs, we are professionals, we are mothers, we are family members, we have children, we go on holidays and we have sex.

MUSIC

I think we should also be seeing things like disabled children who also eat Smarties or Cornflakes or whatever being given the Daz challenge - Shane Richie coming and knocking on your door.

One of my favourite ads is the Halifax ad with the - with the guy singing and where a lot of people crowd together and make a big X, there's no disabled people that I can see in the X - why not?

REPORTER But now you can ignore the ads that don't portray disabled people, this one won an award.

BT AD
BT, always working on new ways of bringing you together.

MUSIC

VOX POPS There's a BT advert which shows a woman gossiping with her friend over a video phone in sign language, two women are discussing one of the colleague's backsides, deciding whether it's a decent backside or not. It just so happens that the women are deaf.

It showed disabled people in an office environment working amongst non-disabled colleagues, it showed that disabled people also have feelings, urges and desires and I didn't think it was derogatory at all to either parties.

REPORTER But this ad for the drink firm Iron Bru attracted 100 complaints.

VOX POPS A disabled woman on a motorised scooter decides she's ram-raiding into the cans, a pile of Iron Bru that's stacked up in the middle of a supermarket and she takes one and then she goes off. I think it's funny, it's not derogatory towards disabled people because it's humorous and I think that it's nice to see disabled people depicted in that way.

The point isn't whether people complain, the point is at least they had something to complain about. Every advert that's going to be on today there's going to be at least two people, probably even more, going to complain about that advert - that's progress. You make progress through people complaining.

ADVERT FOR TEACHERS
I'll be a ballerina when I grow big.

Be their inspiration, for details of jobs and opportunities in childcare phone 0800 99 66 00.

I'd like to be an actress I would I would.

I'd be an astronaut and go into space for a look.

REPORTER No complaints about this one but is it dull and worthy?

VOX POPS There are four teachers depicted, one of which is a wheelchair user, this is not anything that looks unusual, it doesn't look freakish, it looks very normal and standard and it just highlights that disabled people can also be mentors and they can indeed teach.

MUSIC

It's all very well having government things and they want to be seen as politically correct but you need to get people in consumer based adverts - like the Curry's advert or buying a car advert or selling insurance.

REPORTER So disability in advertising can go together but if you bet your house on it be aware your property is at risk and terms and conditions apply. Call us now 0800 044 044. Tell us what you think, remember your call matters to us.

MUSIC

ROBINSON
Well I'm joined now by Mik Scarlet, a disabled actor and journalist, Matt Edwards, a director at the ad agency Lowe, which is one of the top five agencies in the UK, it makes, amongst other things, those Tesco ads with Prunella Scales and Stephen Woodford, who's president of the Institute of Practitioners of Advertising, that's the IPA, he's also chair of Changing Faces, a charity which promotes the interests of people with facial disfigurement and also is from the agency WRCS, that's the 13th biggest agency in the UK.

Mik, if I can start with you first of all. As a disabled actor and a journalist we've been trying to come up with examples, we're struggling, you know you sort of don't get beyond much fingers of one hand really.

SCARLET
Yeah that's it, I must admit when I was asked to think of some one of the ones that has always stuck in my memory was a Nike ad where they had a load of guys in wheelchairs wheeling up the side of a mountain and it was for running shoes, which I thought was great because I'd buy one pair - I've bought one pair of trainers in my life and I still - and they're brand new, they don't look old at all. So really the wrong market audience to be trying to aim at disabled - wheelchair users buying trainers, not right.

ROBINSON
But for you that's a good thing.

SCARLET
It stuck in my memory because of the humour of it I think, because we're so rarely seen and then along comes a thing - one of the few products that really we don't really care about, once we've got a pair of trainers we're happy. And yet they were trying to say buy our trainers, it was like these are going to last longer, all our trainers last longer, we could run up a mountain in slippers. So, do you know what I mean, but that was the only one I can really honestly remember. Hearing that package back, the Iron Bru advert is another one, but …

ROBINSON
And arguably that's about the sort of humour of a disabled woman ram-raiding, sorry an elderly woman ram-raiding, rather than the fact she's disabled.

SCARLET
Oh absolutely, yeah, I mean really she wasn't really a disabled person, I know kind of we'd like to claim that she was but she was really just an elderly person and that's not quite the same.

ROBINSON
Why do you think there aren't disabled people in adverts generally?

SCARLET
I mean I think disabled people are aware enough to understand that kind of there is this issue that advertising companies are trying to create a lifestyle and are trying to create a lifestyle that people that are watching will associate with that product and then they'll think - oh I must buy that because I want that lifestyle. And there's not many able bodied people out there that go - oh I know I want to be disabled. But I think the thing is, is that there are so many disabled people out there and people who know disabled people - going to have disabled relatives or friends - that don't see that as a problem. And also there are so many disabled people out there now that have great careers and great lives and have an awful lot of money to spend. The number of disabled guys I know that are in wheelchairs that are driving round in Porches now is unbelievable compared to what it was like even 10 years ago. And I think that those people aren't portrayed and they have a lifestyle that even able-bodied people would dream about.

ROBINSON
So you're saying basically the ad agencies are sort of 10 years, at least, out of date and the view is the white stick, the wheelchair, the sort of …

SCARLET
Yeah, that everyone kind of associates disabled people with being kind of on invalidity benefit, at home, never working, not much money, not very empowered and the way it was, you know, 10, 15 years ago but I think that now there is a whole new generation of disabled people that have gone out and got lives, got jobs, got - that built a lifestyle that is comparable to successful able-bodied people.

ROBINSON
Having said all that then, disabled people are obviously much happier with their lot, if you like, does it matter then that they're not featured in adverts and - because if they're going to be featured they may well be featured in the wrong way?

SCARLET
I'll tell you what I think is that because we now live in a society where more and more perfection is being praised and advertising is one of the king culprits of praising perfection, we're existing now in a society where babies with a clef palate are being aborted. I know it sounds like - whoa that's a bit of a big leap but it's not, in that by permanently saying that only the perfect should be shown, that only the perfect should ever be used to symbolise a product, that anything wrong with you we don't want that, we want the perfect person to say I'd buy this product, it means that we end up with a society where only the perfect are valued.

ROBINSON
But Matt Edwards we've got a situation where actually advertising is not about reality is it, it's about the aspiration or the inspiration and so disability is not something that you're going to feature in your advert?

EDWARDS
I don't agree with that because I think it has been featured successfully in some of the commercials that were mentioned, there are also others. I think there are two points at which the decision is taken to include disabled people in the advertising. The first is in the actual writing, so if you actually create an idea that is based around some aspect of disability - and a good example of that was the Coca Cola commercial that featured a blind football fan experiencing the same passion for football that anybody else would. And I think the second point at which you can introduce disabled people into the advertising is when you're casting, so you might have a script that doesn't feature any disabled people at all but you might choose to cast a disabled actor in the lead or in any of the other roles.

ROBINSON
But I mean do you, on a day-to-day basis, this is not happening, you can sit here and say you should do this, we once had a blind man in a Coca Cola advert but on a sort of regular basis this is not happening is it because you don't see designer clothes adverts or Pimms adverts or beer adverts, etc., it's sort of everyday life adverts?

EDWARDS
Well I think you do see - I think two things really, on the first point, commercials are being written that feature disabilities, like the Freeserve one, like the Virgin mobile commercial with Matt Fraser, for example. I think the casting thing is interesting because I spoke to some of our creative teams, who've been working in advertising for 10, 15 years and they said - well we've never actually had any disabled actors turn up. Now of course that begs the question as to whether they don't turn up because they know they're not going to get the part. But I think for some of our creative teams raising the issue with them and making them think about it is important.

ROBINSON
But you're very much led by the client aren't you, you all sit down and the client says we'd like to achieve this image, if you like, with our advert. So really you're not going to go to them and say - oh and by the way do you think you should put somebody with a disability in this advert? It just doesn't work like that does it, so it's got to come from the client.

EDWARDS
No I think it does work like that because I think usually it's us going - the client doesn't normally say we want x, y and z, we would normally make a recommendation, a client might not always agree with that, but I - certainly the clients that I work with I don't think they would be in any way negative about it.

ROBINSON
Stephen Woodford from the IPA, you sort of cover the industry as a whole but you also have interests with a disability group yourself. I mean do consumers react badly if they see disabled people in an advert, does the product not sell?

WOODFORD
I don't think there's any evidence that it affects the sales of the products. I think there are some good examples that Matt quoted and that were quoted in the introductory piece about good ads that have used disabled people successfully that have sold the product successfully. I think there's a simple issue here, which is about awareness and I think one of the things is about awareness within the marketing organisations that own the brands, awareness within advertising agencies and wider awareness within the media. And I think one of the things about focussing on advertising is advertising reflects the wider media environment and I think there's a very - advertising's often an easy target for these sorts …

SCARLET
This is the actual crux of it, it's alright saying we aren't in adverts but we're probably in adverts more than we're in soap operas, than we're in prime time television - have you seen any disabled news presenters? No, what is the argument about that, they all sit behind a desk. You don't see anyone in EastEnders, there's no one in Coronation Street and if they are they're always able-bodied actors but then are suddenly miraculously cured, which his impossible, you cannot cure spinal injury, it's for life. And so really saying to advertising companies it's really unfair you don't have us on, well their argument could be well why should we because we're trying to portray - why in the middle of Coronation Street would you want an advert with someone in a wheelchair when during the whole of Coronation Street there's been two people that have been vaguely disabled, one of which was old and one of which kind of came in and disappeared.

ROBINSON
We had the case with ethnic minority people in adverts and that is now very much changing, do you think we're just sort of in delay here, that it will happen, it just hasn't happened yet?

SCARLET
I do think it will change because I think that the media is actually finally waking up to the fact that it has to represent us correctly, because we're out there - there's millions of us out there. And also because the thing is everyone at this table, apart from me, is pretty much physically perfect and yet at any point during their lives they could be run over, they could have an illness and then all of a sudden they come over to our side of life and then you really do need to start portraying disabled people because everyone out there could be disabled tomorrow.

ROBINSON
Stephen is this something you need to push much more with your creative teams, your people, when they're being trained that they've just got to think this thought?

WOODFORD
I think it's something that agencies can take a lead on, as Matt said we make recommendations to our clients and we can help them become better at representing, not just the disabled in terms of diversity but ethnic minorities and so on and I think when we think about disabled we should think more widely than just people in a wheelchair or people with a white stick. The charity I'm involved with - Changing Faces - talks about facial disfigurement, which is a major thing that affects lots and lots of people in the country and that's something that again there's another taboo area, featuring somebody in the media, whether it's on advertising or on a TV show with a major facial disfigurement, it just doesn't happen. So I think it's important to think more broadly than just about disability in the obvious sense, it should be thought more widely than that. But we can help our clients and we can take a lead and the IPA has got a very good track record of leading the industry to become more inclusive and more representative of diversity in the UK.

ROBINSON
Okay, Stephen Woodford from the IPA and WRCS thank you. Matt Edwards from Lowe advertising and Mik Scarlet, actor and journalist thanks very much indeed.



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