‘Marketers want to pretend that disabled people do not exist’ claims Channel 4’s CMO

Channel 4 has launched a new competition encouraging advertisers to feature disability in their ads as its CMO Dan Brooke claimed that “disabled people do not exist in ad land”.

The Superhumans Wanted prize will award £1m worth of commercial airtime – including a coveted slot during the Paralympics opening ceremony in Rio – to the brand or agency that submits the strongest campaign idea. The caveat is that entries, which need to be submitted by 25 May, must feature an idea that prominently features disabled talent and issues.

Brooke says if a smaller brand enters and wins but doesn’t have a creative agency on board, Channel 4 would also potentially link them up with its in-house agency 4Creative.

Ultimately, he hopes the campaign can help UK advertisers to embrace disability.

He told Marketing Week: “The world needs to change quite radically. Aside from the likes of Channel 4, Lloyds and Guinness, I don’t think disabled people exist in ad land. Advertisers still want to portray the most perfect world that they can. Disability is seen as an inconvenient truth.”

READ MORE: How brands are taking a proactive approach to disability

Over recent years, the marketing industry has pushed for more diversity. However, high-profile diversity surveys from the likes of the IPA and Ad Association focus primarily on gender and race equality, and not disability.

“The big drives are entirely about gender and race yet up to 20% of the population will experience some form of disability in their life time. Why is it such a taboo subject?” questions Brooke.

“This is a massive audience and part of our society. When disabled people see themselves in the media, it creates strong associations of loyalty and inclusion.”

The Superhumans Wanted prize, which was announced this week at Advertising Week Europe, has already seen “massive interest” from brands, according to Brooke.

Comparing the current lack of disabled faces in advertising to lack of non-white faces in the past, he hopes the competition can create serious debate among marketers.

He concluded: “People were saying this about people of colour 20 or 30 years ago – that it was too risky to put them in adverts. Is it tokenistic. I don’t think any marketer actively tries to not feature disabled people, the issue is more that they just don’t figure in their thinking.

“My view is that there’s a fear that one is somehow trying to attach one’s self to a charity issue to make money when featuring disabled talent. It isn’t true. If you are really committed to disabled people as an employer, surely you must reflect that in your advertising? Lloyds are doing it but they aren’t really doing anything that’s special, they are just reflecting society. What is special is that everybody else is ignoring such a large chunk of the population.”

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