I can still remember when I first saw Channel 4’s trailer for the 2012 Paralympics The Superhumans. The music. The attitude. The bravery. The cinematic look and feel. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and has helped fire me up at the gym ever since.
The 2012 Paralympics was a significant moment in time. For the first time, the Paralympics took on the mentality of a challenger brand with the attitude that it was going to be just as good as, if not better than, the Olympics.
It captured the imagination of businesses and consumers alike. Mainstream brands like Sainsbury’s chose to sponsor the Paralympics alone and crowds flocked to see the games. Attitudes appeared to be changing. Encouragingly 90% of Generation Z now support an inclusive society where diversity is highly encouraged.
Afterwards, I wrote that I hoped disability brands in the charity sector would claim the zeitgeist to continue the momentum, individually or collectively. At that point in time, they hadn’t embraced branding in the same way as other market leaders like Macmillan or Cancer Research UK, which rebranded in the same summer. But nothing much of notice materialised or cut through.
The one brand that has stood out for me in-between 2012 and now is Scope with their End the Awkward campaign, which bravely and refreshingly uses humour to get people to think differently about disability. A technique most charity brands are nervous of.
Scope have published steamy Mills & Boon novels around Valentine’s Day with an illustrated A-Z of sex and disability, as well as a brilliant series of shorts films with Channel 4 on what not to do in awkward situations. I just wish they had more media power to bring the campaign to more people in addition to its well-targeted niche.
Channel 4 is one brand that has continued to champion disability issues by continuing to broadcast the award-winning comedy and talk show The Last Leg, which originally ran alongside the 2012 Paralympics.
In January they reaffirmed their commitments to a Diversity Charter, which puts diversity at the heart of all decision making across all on and off-screen activities with external partners and independent producers. It also named 2016 as its Year of Disability to increase the representation of disabled people within broadcasting, and launched a £1m competition for featuring disability in an ad campaign.
The results were announced last week with Maltesers and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO winning the gold . I can’t wait to see how confectionery can compete with Superhumans when the ad first airs during the Paralympics opening ceremony in Rio on 7 September. Incidentally, the learning disability charity Mencap pitched for an agency to help it reposition its brand in the same week .
What’s encouraging is the mainstream brands that made the Channel 4 competition shortlist: Amazon, Barclays, Dove, H&M, Lloyds Bank, Lynx and Purdey’s. But what’s worrying is how the charity disability brands appear to be left behind or crowded out.
The UN’s sustainability goals, including reducing inequality, demand that sectors work together to achieve lasting change. And so it would be nice to see greater collaboration and a sustained effort, not just a peak of activity every four years. I’ll await more goosebumps, please.