Disability Inclusion in Advertising

People with disabilities should feel seen by brands – read our analysis of inclusive ads

One in four U.S. adults has a disability but if you were to look at the media landscape today, you would probably guess that far fewer people are living with a disability. This is because people with disabilities are severely underrepresented in movies, television and commercials. While there’s been progress over the years, there is still has a long way to go. This is one of the reasons why System1 developed the Feeling Seen USA report.

Feeling Seen USA takes an in-depth look at how brands can recognize and celebrate people with disabilities so that they feel seen and heard. Read on to learn more about our findings and how they impact the role that brands and agencies play in developing ads.

People with disabilities should feel seen by brands – read our analysis of inclusive ads

Feeling Seen USA analyzes 58 U.S. ads that bring diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) to the forefront. Of these ads, nearly one third (31%) showcased people with disabilities, including those who are blind, deaf and have a physical disability.

So, how did the ads featuring people with disabilities perform? We not only measured the emotional response among the general public using our Test Your Ad platform, but also the response from Americans living with disabilities. This gave us a clear picture on which ads featuring representation were most successful among those who have a visible or non-visible disability. It also allowed us to compare the results with the wider population.

Some ads, like Hallmark’s “Share More Merry This Season with a Hallmark Card” ad scored equally well among the general public and those with disabilities. In fact, the spot scored the highest rating possible, 5.9-Stars. Other ads experienced what we refer as a “diversity dividend.” This occurs when an ad scores well among the general population and then experiences a noticeable uptick in its score among the diverse audience. In other words, when people feel seen and heard, when their experiences are being included and accurately portrayed, they feel good about an ad.

How Brands and Agencies can Represent the Disability Community

There are numerous best practices that brands and agencies can follow when developing ads featuring people with disabilities, including:

1. Focus on someone’s story, not everyone’s story.

Telling inspiring individual experiences is often more effective at making people feel seen. For example, McCann’s “Spotlight” ad for Mastercard, centers on Marjorie, a blind woman, as she visits a café and distinguishes between her credit and debit cards using the notches along their edges.

Because the ad uses a voiceover to describe the story and announce key visuals, like the Mastercard tagline and logo, someone with a visual impairment would be able to understand the ad just by listening. That’s the definition of inclusion and the reason why “Spotlight” was included as one of the Star Performers in our report.

2. Conduct ad testing to understand emotional response

Some diverse ads don’t score well because they focus too much on the challenges of people from underrepresented groups, which elevates feelings of sadness. If sadness is being utilized to highlight the realities of a specific individual or group, it’s important to also balance this with moments of happiness, especially towards the end of the ad to leave viewers in a happy mood.

Because emotional response is an accurate predictor of an ad’s long-term success, brands and agencies should understand which moments of an ad are driving positive and negative emotions. Early-stage ad testing can be instrumental for identifying these peaks and adjusting creative to secure high happiness levels.

3. Commit to always-on inclusion.

Representation in the media for people with disabilities can seem few and far between. There are specific holidays that celebrate people with disabilities, like National Disability Independence Day, World Sight Day, International Day of Persons with Disabilities, World Hearing Day and World Down Syndrome Day. While these events are certainly important for showcasing the stories of people with disabilities and encouraging action and change, brands need to think beyond these dates. Elevating the voices of those with disabilities year-round is a more authentic approach that will consistently make people with disabilities feel included.

As System1 knows and our Feeling Seen USA report shows, effective diverse ads drive long-term brand building. Access the guide to learn how to make ads that drive the right emotional response among audiences.

Get In Touch

Got a Marketing problem? We'd love to hear about it. Tell us what you're looking for and we'll get in touch ASAP.