When Channel 4 began work on its 2016 Rio Paralympics campaign, it came across a shocking statistic: 67% of people in the UK felt uncomfortable talking to a disabled person.
The broadcaster saw an opportunity to not just promote a sporting event but to also fundamentally change attitudes towards disability forever.
The centrepiece of the "We’re the superhumans" marketing campaign – a follow-up to Channel 4’s "Meet the superhumans" campaign from London 2012, was a three-minute film featuring disabled people, premiered simultaneously across broadcast and social channels.
Accessibility was also key – the campaign included a signed and subtitled version of the film alongside an audio-described one.
Real, beautiful, visceral and challenging
"There are 140 disabled people in the film - apparently that’s more disabled people in one ad than in the whole history of British advertising," says Alice Tonge, head of 4Creative, Channel 4’s in-house creative agency.
"The film challenges you to forget what you think you know about disability – it’s a huge celebration of ability beyond disability in a real, beautiful, visceral, challenging way."
Dan Brooke, chief marketing and communications officer and board champion for diversity at Channel 4, says that the Superhumans concept has always has been about people – real people and their amazing abilities.
"That’s what makes it tick. Since time began, disabled people have known what they can do," he says. "But, and it still seems unfathomable, their stories have just not been told – or not told enough and, as a result, not been seen and heard in a mainstream way."
The secret of Superhumans’ creative success, he adds, is real people and their abilities, both in front of the camera and behind it.
Channel 4’s Paralympics coverage was watched by almost half of the viewing population while research showed that respondents who recalled the campaign felt more positive towards disabled people. The campaign has since been adopted by the UN as a worldwide disability aid and has also become part of the national curriculum in UK schools.
Channel 4’s "We’re the Superhumans" campaign won the Cultural Shift category at the 2017 Campaign Marketing New Thinking Awards