There is no doubt that the representation of people with disabilities has come a long way in recent years, but there is still that absence. This is especially true when it comes to representing physical disabilities in marketing and advertising, for not disability related products, but everyday products, such as fashion, that everyone uses. While physical access to stores also prevents people with disabilities from spending money (which is a discussion for another post), surely there is no excuse for the lack of representation in marketing and advertising campaigns?
In Australia alone, over 10% of the population have been reported to have some kind of physical disability, ranging from neuromuscular conditions to old people with bad backs (Australian Network on Disability). When taking into consideration that Australian’s spent $20.4 billion on fashion related items in 2016 (Australian Spending Habits) and the percentage of the population that have a physical disability, people with a physical disability spend about $2.8 billion on fashion. That is a lot of money and out of proportion if you look at the ratio of models with physical disabilities to models without one. So why are businesses so afraid to increase representation when this is a key consumer group that has not yet been tapped into?
If you look at it from a basic point of view, every marketing and advertising campaign starts with deciding who the target market is, also known as segmentation. Commonly, a company may decide on a segmentation of females 15-34 years old who have an interest in looking their best at a basic level. They don’t, however, decide not to include a female with blonde hair because that is not really important to a fashion product, though this could differ if it was a hair dying product for example. Therefore, excluding someone with a physical disability also wouldn’t come into consideration.
So, are they excluded because they are too different from other consumers? Well, this is also false. At university marketing students are taught the consumer decision-making process and no matter who the consumer is, disability or not, they all go through it. We all have a need, search for information, look at the different options, choose and then evaluate. Companies have a real advantage to target people with disabilities during this process, as I know from personal experience that I will search for information to make sure the product is right for me. From the weight of an iPhone to ensure that it’s not too heavy for me to use, to sizing on clothing, because I have an unusual body shape due to my disability. Therefore, if you can show me someone with a physical disability using/wearing your product, I’m probably more likely to buy it because I know it will work for me.
So, is it just simply too hard to accommodate a model with a physical disability? There is no doubt that a little more time would have to be put into a marketing or advertising campaign if a model with a physical disability was used. This would range from making sure the set was accessible and actually finding a model (though this is where organisations such as Models of Diversity can help and even agencies such as Zebedee Management who specialise in models with disabilities). It may also cost more, such as paying to get the clothes altered.
However, is the financial and time risk worth the reward though? While little research has been done on whether society has a positive reaction towards models with disabilities, it has been found by one researcher that people are more likely to view a company as socially responsible if they hire employees with a disability, with this then having positive results for that company (Gonzalez and Fernandez 2016). Therefore, if we translate this to the marketing and advertising world, we can only assume that consumers will, in fact, react positively towards a company using a model with a physical disability, even if the only positive is that that company is seen as being inclusive.
We can reinforce this assumption by looking at companies that are already including models with physical disabilities. Brands such as ASOS and Tommy Hilfiger have increasingly become more inclusive, with Tommy even realising an adaptive clothing line (Marketing Week), which takes full advantage of the physical disability market. This was taken very well by the market as they are clothes that everyone can wear but have features that make them that little bit easier for people with a physical disability.
Other companies have also welcomed disabled influencers, including Pretty Little Things with Madison Lawson (@wheelchairbarbie) and BooHoo and Miss Guided with Tess Daly (@tess.daly); two influences who I personally love to follow not because they use a wheelchair but because they have amazing personalities too.
If companies like the ones above are already including models with disabilities and thinking of consumers with physical disabilities, why aren’t others? While this question might not be answered for years to come, it is clear throughout this article that people with physical disabilities are just like any other consumer. There are only benefits for companies from having models with physical disabilities and that an extra effort or money is time and money well spent. There really is no excuse for the lack of representation these days!
*original publish on Models of Diversity as “Marketing Inclusion Or Simply Making Money” by Amy Evans