A view from Sue Unerman

Ad industry is failing to represent people with disabilities

We clearly still need a Glass Lion.

(The Cannes Glass Lion recognises work that implicitly or explicitly addresses issues of gender inequality or prejudice, through the conscious representation of gender in advertising.) 

Of course we do. It’s not enough.

We need more action.  We must all decide whether we think women should be depicted as objects or not.   The Glass Lion is as necessary as it ever was.  The glass wall is still standing in the way of gender parity in agencies.

It’s not enough. 

As far as representation of society is concerned the representation of women is not by any means the sole diversity issue that should concern us in communications thinking. 

Millions of people in the UK sometimes feel patronised or ignored because they’re disabled. Two-thirds of us, according to research conducted by charityScope, acknowledge that we don’t know what to do when we meet someone who’s disabled.  That we feel "awkward". 

Scope’s partnership with Channel 4 to "End the awkward" was part of their ongoing campaign to highlight this.  Indeed Channel 4’s actions on the representation of disability, including creating and airing The Last Leg with Alex Brooker and their proud position as the channel for the Paralympics is exemplary.  Putting their media money where their mouth is with the £1m "Superhumans wanted" competition shows how seriously they take the issue. 

It’s not enough. Every one of us has a role to play in making a difference in the representation of disabled people.

It’s easier to keep the status quo of course. But in a closely related sector, the industry has made efforts to change.  

Project Diamond would be a great example to follow. Project Diamond is the effort of the Creative Diversity Network (BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4) to introduce a common diversity monitoring template for all programmes commissioned.  It enables detailed diversity statistics to be tracked and benchmarked.  It answers the question: "Who’s on TV and who makes TV?" It is as much about the incidental casting of disabled people as it is about hero-ing or championing disabled stars, which you don’t see much of in adverts. 

Disabled people are under represented on our screens and in media in general.  Yet there is so much content being created now, so many of us have influence on what’s being made for consumers, consideration of casting a more diverse range of talent is only fair. 

I asked a couple of CMOs about incidental casting of disabled people in advertising, and they suggested that it hasn’t ever been raised with them.  Are those responsible in content creation and advertising agencies considering this?  If not, then let’s put it on the agenda.

Project Diamond seems to be making a difference to what’s on our TV screens in terms of programming.  You’ll probably have noticed this if you watch British originated shows on TV.

Let’s adopt this idea for advertising and branded content.

Our head of MediaCom Beyond Advertising, Tom Curtis, has already committed that his whole team will "explore the incidental representation of disability in all relevant content projects."

I’d like to propose that every head of creative/branded content/strategy similarly encourages their teams. That every creative and content awards scheme takes account of the incidental casting of disabled people as a hygiene factor.

That Clearcast creates a code for their proportionate inclusion in the majority of an advertisers’ copy. It’s still not enough, but it’s a start.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom