Target made a statement by not saying much – can other brands follow suit?

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US retailer Target has become a web phenomenon over the past week after it featured a young boy with Down’s Syndrome in its latest campaign advertising its new children’s line.

It’s a brave brand that will do something different, knowing that in this digital age, evaluation is instant and a negatively perceived campaign can be lambasted to frightening levels in seconds, contrary to what any focus group told you before launch.

Luckily for Target, it has received global attention and favourable comments from many. They noted not just the placement of young Ryan in the campaign, amongst other children, but that its release was not accompanied by a self-praising press statement drawing attention to the move.

Perhaps the highest acclaim came from the popular blogger “Noah’s Dad”, who documents life as a father to a toddler with Down’s. His comments could have not been more apt and beneficial to Target had the brand’s execs scripted it themselves.

“Five things Target said by not saying anything,” he wrote. “They said that it’s time for organisations to be intentional about seeking creative ways to help promote inclusion.

“They said that companies don’t have to call attention to the fact that they choose to be inclusive in order for people to notice their support for people with disabilities.

“By not making a big deal out of it they are doing a better job of showing their support for the special needs community.”

Target is not the first brand to do this – fellow US retailer Nordstrom had previously featured Ryan in a campaign. In the UK, Debenhams used models in wheelchairs in 2010 and Enfield girl Kelly Knox, born without a left forearm, featured in a fashion spread in Marie Claire in 2008.

But if brands are looking to follow suit, it’s clear there is a lot to consider, not least the purpose of including someone with a disability in brand imagery.

The UK government’s Office for Disability warns against putting out potentially conflicting messages – for example, a recruitment ad for teachers showing someone in a wheelchair might give the message that this is the kind of person required, it says.

A key reason for Target’s success was that it was not outright targeting consumers with disabilities or identifying itself as a supporter of disability but a supporter of communities and diversity.

Targeting a consumer with disabilities would not normally rank high on the average marketer’s checklist. UK government statistics show that while over 10 million people in Britain have a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability, as a consumer group, there are obvious restrictions such as income and education.

There are certainly opportunities for brands to positively impact this demographic. An Office for Disability Issues study from 2009/2010 highlighted concerns such as choice and control over daily life, difficulties in accessing goods and services, transport, and the internet.

More positively, in 2009/10, disabled people in the study were more likely to have attended a cinema, museum or art gallery than in 2005/06. It also illustrated that 55% of disabled people had undertaken at least one “activity of civic involvement” in the past 12 months, while 22% had engaged in formal volunteering at least once a month.

Looking at these factors are just some of the routes brands can take. However, rather than potentially being perceived as having to fulfil Big Society requirements, actively pursuing diversity in above the line campaigns has a wider knock on effect that it seems is equally welcomed.

When supermarket Sainsbury’s decided to become solely a Paralympics sponsor, spokesman Jat Sahota told Marketing Week: “Our research shows that our sponsorship particularly resonates with families, especially mums. They recognise that this is a good thing for children to experience as it broadens their view of what life is about.”

And this is certainly what Target has done – along with raising positive brand awareness and perception. A win-win situation that I’m not sure all brands could create.

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