A Step Forward For Advertising

I came across this today and it instantly tugged on my heart-strings. A huge well done to Marks and Spencer, a brilliant example of PR done well.

Marks and Spencer’s has made history and heralded a step forward for British advertising. It’s the first big, mainstream brand that has featured a person with a disability in their adverts. The advert is being hailed as a bold, and long overdue, step forward for the treatment and perception of people with disabilities.

The mother of a four year old Seb White says she became frustrated with the lack of diversity in kids modelling campaigns, and felt that children like her son were not being represented.

‘When Seb was born, I vividly remember seeing lots of ads with hundreds of beautifully perfect kids in them and it just added to my sense of isolation and difference. ‘Then back in July when we were shopping for Seb’s school uniform it occurred to me again that all the “different” children out there that are starting school are just not represented.’

She wrote on their Facebook page and thanks to an overwhelming response, the company accepted her idea. Seb also features in the Nov/Dec edition of the Your M&S Magazine.

Now many may question if this is really a step forward in disability rights or pure tokenism. My opinion is that every act like this should be acknowledged and praised. M&S didn’t pursue this, but responded to a request by the child’s mother. This isn’t being hailed as the end of discrimination, exclusion, or prejudice, but “a start”.

Also it may seem like a publicity stunt, designed to improve their brand image and Seb’s role may seem incidental. I wouldn’t have noticed Seb’s disability if it hadn’t been pointed out. However that Seb appears ‘incidental’ is surely the point, he is just another happy child – not a freak or a token. And that’s how it should be. He isn’t the focus of the ad, but he’s there – the same as any other child. Plenty of people with disabilities are indistinguishable from the rest of us. I sincerely hope this will change attitudes towards Down’s Syndrome and disabilities in general.

Further reading:

The Guardian posted an article that discussed the advert and the changing perceptions of people with disability that I recommend everyone to read.

Advertising doesn’t just sell a product, after all, but a lifestyle. And, put bluntly, disability isn’t a “lifestyle” many want to buy. For reasons simultaneously based in logic and prejudice, in most people’s minds, it’s the lifestyle they’d pay not to have. With this thought, the advertisers steer clear.

In an ideal world, the man using the wheelchair will be depicted as successful, the woman with the amputated arm beautiful. Today, as a start, we have the little boy with Down’s syndrome shown as a happy child just like yours.

Change is going to be circular: adverts including people with disabilities will alter perceptions of disability that will in turn make their inclusion second nature. It takes one big brand to start things moving but many to continue it – to get to a point where exclusion is unrealistic and not accepted. Only then will disability not just be on-screen for Christmas; it will be for life.


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