How to help brands integrate disability into their advertising?


“Humanists to the core, human to the core”, slams Gaël Faye in the SNCF campaign clip, Hexagonal. Then, further: “We are not static, we are progressive. Sometimes late, but not late, we are avant-garde.” In this little communication film, released in 2021, the company, an old lady of almost 85 years old, wanted to indicate what unites her with the French. Show, as Stéphane Chéry, director of brand, advertising and partnerships, points out that “the SNCF is a piece of France and of the French”.

Images of everyday life scroll by. We discover citizens, often played by railway workers, sometimes at difficult times, such as during the pandemic, sometimes during festive periods, sports victories. And in the space of an instant, the camera is fixed on a person in a wheelchair, as if nothing had happened. Then, further on, on a young man with Down syndrome, played by a railway worker who is a member of the teams. “For me, it’s not a subject to highlight citizens with disabilities in a corporate short film, explains Stéphane Chéry. Maybe it’s still a bit for an older person, maybe I’d still be a little too conservative for the person who will succeed me in this position… The evolution of citizens, and therefore of teams , is permanent.” In any case, he continues, “everyone wants to leave a trace within brands”…

An alarming delay

Leave your mark… or take your part in society. If more and more companies are getting involved in societal or environmental issues, the accumulated delay in the inclusion of people with disabilities is immeasurable. According to a study carried out by the Kantar Institute and the main organization of communicators in France COM-ENT, the handicap has only been represented in less than… 1% of advertising creations over the past 25 years, of which a third comes from NGOs and humanitarian associations. “And, again, it was only what is visible, like a wheelchair or a prosthesis. However, for more than 80% of cases, the disability is not visible”specifies Constance Wiblé, communication director of Oui Care and member of the COM-ENT office. “During all these years, she explains, companies did not imagine integrating characters with disabilities into their communication. Nobody thought about it during the castings…”

Despite some progress, it hasn’t changed much yet, as also observed by the agency The Good Company, behind, with Kantar Insights, the very recent Inclusion and Diversity in Advertising Barometer. As seen over the past 25 years, we could see an “invalid” person in only… 1% of French adsin 2020. In addition, only 9% of respondents said they had “recently” come across (according to the wording of the survey) an advertisement showing a person with a disability… However, disability affects 20% of French people! “This invisibilization is in the image of societyregrets Lisa Gache, strategic planner at The Good Company agency. You only have to look at the accessibility of the infrastructures for people with disabilities. Moreover, disability is plural, and it can be very complex to represent it on all these forms. Hence, perhaps, this silence.

Communicators can move the lines

However, brands have an interest in getting started. According to Constance Wiblé, “Communicators have a role to play so that the lines move”. In the sense that “they offer images to customers, who get used to them until such and such a representation becomes almost the norm”. The representation of disability can quite take the same path as that of gender. “At a time, says Constance Wiblé, for example, it would have been unimaginable to feature a man in a laundry advertisement. Today, of course, this is the case…”

The challenge, therefore, for companies: to succeed in creating a collective imagination, and to allow each consumer, with or without a disability, to be able to project and identify themselves. The agency The Good Company, via its new barometer, confirms: 72% of respondents believe that “showing diversity in advertising is important”… The catch: just over 3 out of 10 French people think that advertising “reflects the diversity of French society today”.

The importance of casting…

“Handi-washing does exist”

But how to support brands? First of all, it is necessary to insist on the importance of the castings. “It is essential to be able to see, in the countryside, people who look like us”, analyzes Lisa Gache. And if things manage to evolve in the right direction, it will not be to displease the general public: consumers are not specifically asking for better representation of disabilities, but they nevertheless expect brands to make a concrete commitment. Thus, the agency The Good Company encourages companies to link their campaigns to their commitments. “Handi-washing does exist”, she says. In other words, as she points out, citizens need “evidence” beyond communication: it is not enough to represent a handicap, it must also be consistent with the values ​​of the brands. This is the case of CNP Assurances, which says it supports every French person, regardless of their experience. “Your lives no longer fit into the boxes”, launches the insurer in 2021 in a promotional campaign, signed… The Good Company. We see a succession of colorful characters, in particular a young dancer without a right leg… She is about to go on stage!

Like that of CNP Assurances, many communications relate in particular to the field of sport. Adidas, Decathlon, and then Lacoste… In the clip of the crocodile brand Le 9e couloir, Paralympic swimmer Laurent Chardard sets off for a 50m freestyle with a special twist. From Paris, he confronts eight able-bodied athletes, who are racing at the Tokyo Olympics simultaneously. Thanks to lasers, we follow their trail … next to the 9th lane of the swimmer, amputated of two limbs since 2016. And the mark of congratulations, at the end of the video, for having seen the athlete “enter the ‘Story”. And the latter, delighted with the experience, goes on to the Views site: “It’s a good thing that Lacoste is looking to break down barriers between competitions.” Make visible what was hidden, even involuntarily… This kind of advertising allows to show the example and the athletes welcome it.

…and an authentic story

As much as Constance Wiblé, who nevertheless brings this nuance: “Often people with disabilities are seen in advertisements as superheroes, it is certainly useful, it advances the cause, but it is not enough.” This is the limit of the role-model figure, still dominant in sports advertising campaigns: “To represent the handicap, it is not obligatory to value the exceptional, one can also put forward ordinary citizens, quite simply.”

Lisa Gache, from The Good Company agency, adds: “We could diversify the stories.” To ensure, in short, that “the same archetypes don’t go round and round”. Here is the difficulty: avoid clichés, caricatures, reduce handicaps to an object, such as a cane, for example. “To avoid pitfalls, and better represent disabilities, brands can exchange with actors, associations, or people with disabilities, who have the legitimacy.” Purpose of the operation: better understand… and, ultimately, “co-construct” a product… In 2021, the Degree brand took the plunge to design a deodorant with easier-to-handle packaging for people with motor impairment in the upper limbs, and useful for the visually impaired, too. In short, an inclusive product, with a Braille label, presented in a promotional video featuring a boxer who uses it, precisely. “There is less risk of aiming sidewaysassures Lisa Gache, whether a mark is genuine”.


Read also: Challenge Represent 2022: SNCF and Maybelline New York set an example

“No more clichés”

Making the handicap visible in a communication can also be interesting insofar as the message delivered concerns another problem… For example, the swimmer Théo Curin took the stage, last March, to raise awareness of the protection of ocean. Jack-of-all-trades, he had last year, with two other athletes, crossed in total autonomy in South America, Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. His intention: to warn about plastic pollution at the level of this fragile immensity… The experience was appreciated, and the former Paralympic champion became the ambassador of the Biotherm skincare brand, committed to safeguarding the seas. .

The COM-ENT network aims to support companies so that they move in the right direction. “The study was only a first step and served to draw up an inventory”, says Constance Wiblé. A working group was set up to reflect on the implementation of concrete actions… like what had been done with regard to the image of women in advertisements. In 2016, the network of communicators was behind the “No more clichés” campaign, accompanied by a non-sexist communication kit, to download and distribute. “everywhere and especially in communication schools”, she adds. When communicators take the lead.

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