Inclusion in Advertising

The above advertisement (no captions) aired last week by General Mills portraying a biracial couple generated unflattering, racist comments across the Internet. While the company properly demonstrated its commitment to inclusion by keeping the advertisement on the air and removing what they termed “not family-friendly” comments from their social media sites, advertising executive Donny Deutsch made a very salient point yesterday about inclusion:

“What’s unfortunate is that I still think 97 percent of companies would stay away from [portraying mixed race themes] because they would say, ‘I don’t need the letters.’ Which is a shame, because in reality when you do an ad like this, yes, there will be some fringe crazy people,’’ Deutsch said on TODAY Monday. “Fringe crazy people go crazy about everything, but in reality you’re making a statement about your company: ‘We’re progressive, we’re inclusive, we are about today.’

“Great advertising holds up a mirror to who we are and where we’re going. We see it in TV, we see it in movies, and advertising is still very late to the game. My challenge to advertisers out there – get with where the country is going.”

So if a person with a disability appears in an advertisement, is it inevitable that there will also be discriminatory comments? Yes.

And my next comment would be: Who cares?

Let me qualify this point: It is my sincere hope that there will never be any discriminatory comments against people with disabilities, or anyone else. More inclusion in advertising and marketing will reduce these kinds of comments. And when I say “who cares?” it means I am not dignifying any discriminatory comments with an answer.

Advertising is indeed late to the game, as Deutsch points out. It’s all in the data — just as the United States’ mixed-race population showed a 32 percent increase from 2000 to 2010, so the number of people with disabilities is going to increase with better quality of care, and more baby boomers hitting old age and its attendant disabilities. According to ABCNews, almost 1 in 5 Americans have a disability, which translates to 57 million people.

Advertising, like art, is creative. However, unlike art, which often allows for free expression, advertising decisions are guided by business strategies. Companies develop advertisements in alignment with their own business decisions, which are geared toward maximizing profit and market share.

So in a sense, advertising is not completely at fault for the lack of inclusion. While advertising agencies do have a responsibility to promote inclusion in advertising, the companies — the hands that feed the advertising world — also have the responsibility to decide what should be in their own advertising. So, to take Donny Deutsch’s words, not only advertisers, but also companies, should “get with where the country is going.”

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