Inclusive marketing: Can you afford to miss out?

Fri 21 April 2017

By Catia Malaquias, Founder, Starting with Julius.

Increasingly, companies are seeking to create employment opportunities for people with disability and to build inclusive corporate cultures.

In the area of employment policy, there is growing awareness of and investment in disability, but too few companies consider disability in other contexts of their business.

Notably, companies rarely consider disability in their internal and external communications and marketing and, in particular, the impact and potential for their communications and marketing to either strengthen or undermine their internal inclusive objectives.

When companies regularly include people with disability in their core advertising images and messages, as part of the broader representation of the diversity of their customers and the communities in which they operate, they are demonstrating their company values around diversity – they are “walking the walk”.

Young model Julius Pannetta surrounded by plush toys in a recent Target catalogue

This is important in attracting a wider talent pool of potential employees that includes people with disability.

It also helps to build trust with existing employees with disability. It ensures that employees feel welcomed, valued and empowered to share information about their disability. This enables employees and employers to benefit from workplace adjustments, which is critical to increasing productivity.

Inclusive advertising also makes sound business sense as an external marketing strategy. We are increasingly hearing discussions about the emerging disability market – an international market representing 15% of people around the world. That's 1.3 billion people with US$1.2 trillion in annual disposable income. Families and friends of people with disability make up another 2.3 billion potential consumers. Together it is estimated that they control over US$8 trillion in annual disposable income.

By representing people with disability in their advertising, companies connect more strongly with customers with disability, as well as their families and friends. It also demonstrates support for human diversity in a broader sense.

Speaking recently at the Diversity in Marketing & Advertising Summit in London, UK vice-president of marketing at Mars Chocolate, Michele Oliver, talked about the creation of last summer’s Maltesers TV commercials that featured a series of protagonists with disability sharing funny experiences and anecdotes.

Looking at the commercial impact of the campaign, Oliver disclosed that during the period the ads were on air, sales of Maltesers increased by 8.1%, compared to a target of 4%. Brand affinity also grew to 20%, compared to a 10% goal.

At the same time, representing people with disability in advertising is socially responsible. Historically, people with disability have been excluded and segregated, denied the most fundamental rights including the right to belong and participate in society. The omission of people with disability from our mainstream media, including advertising, effectively reinforces that history and perpetuates social exclusion.

As a medium that is fundamentally “endorsive” or “promotive”, advertising has real potential to change societal attitudes and stereotypes, reduce barriers and lift low expectations for people with disability – with massive economic, social and health benefits.

When considering the representation of people with disability in advertising, companies should understand the distinction between “thematic” advertising and “inclusive” advertising.

In a nutshell, “thematic” advertising focuses on disability itself, usually conveying an explicit message or comment about disability. Many companies are reluctant to consider thematic advertising about disability, fearing that they will get it wrong, say “the wrong thing” and cause offence. However, thematic advertising can be done well and may be helpful in showcasing products or services specific to disability. In that context, the motto of the disability movement “Nothing About Us, Without Us” is particularly important. Ads about disability should be created in consultation with people with disability.

Inclusive advertising, on the other hand, does not emphasise disability. Rather, it naturalises it, by incorporating people with disability in images and messages “incidentally” as part of the general community.

This presents little risk of criticism for “disability opportunism”, has broader economic and social potential and is more easily incorporated into “sustained commitment” marketing strategies, often as an extension of existing “diversity” initiatives in marketing.

Starting With Julius, a not-for-profit that I founded in 2013, has worked successfully with smaller as well as major brands in Australia, such as Kmart and Target, to increase disability inclusion in advertising. Some examples can be seen on our website.

Catia Malaquias will be speaking alongside ambassador Angel Dixon at our 2017 Annual National Conference. Registrations are now open.

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