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Australian Retailers Applauded for Inclusive Advertising

17 January 2017 at 11:56 am
Wendy Williams
Australian retailers have been applauded for embracing diversity and including people with disability in a series of recent advertising campaigns.

Wendy Williams | 17 January 2017 at 11:56 am


Australian Retailers Applauded for Inclusive Advertising
17 January 2017 at 11:56 am

Australian retailers have been applauded for embracing diversity and including people with disability in a series of recent advertising campaigns.

In their latest back-to-school catalogues, Target and Kmart have featured children wearing hearing aids and ankle-foot orthoses, while modelling a range of products.

The move has been welcomed by disability and diversity advocates alike who claim inclusive advertising is good for both society and business.

Children and Young People with Disability Australia chief executive officer Stephanie Gotlib told Pro Bono News “a picture said a thousand words”.

“For too long children with disability have been positioned as others within communities with segregation being a common occurrence,” Gotlib said.

“Advertisements like this send a very welcome and strong message that disability is part of the diversity of our community and this is what a typical modern day scenario should look like.

“As a community we have a long way to go to change our attitudes around disability. Campaigns such as these are really important in changing society’s attitudes and understanding of disability.

“For other businesses, it tangibly demonstrates how to include ‘disability’ in your product and shows that these companies think disability is good for business.”

Cátia Malaquias, the founder and director of Starting With Julius, a not-for-profit project founded on the belief that advertising and media play a powerful role in “disrupting” and “reshaping” the way society perceives disability, told Pro Bono News it sent a “powerful inclusionary message”.

“Inclusion of people with disability in mainstream advertising is important as it helps to undermine the preconceptions, stereotypes and culture of low exceptions that present some of the most enduring barriers to the realisation of the rights and potential of people with disability,” Malaquias said.

“Mainstream advertising is particularly effective by engaging the broader community through its ‘mass reach’ (as advertising is all pervasive) and because it is inherently promotive.”

Malaquias said for children with disability who were developing their own individual identities, seeing others who share a similar experience, portrayed in a positive and inclusive manner in the media, provided crucial self-validation and empowerment. 

“Inclusion of children with disability in a back to school catalogue is particularly important,” she said.

“Students with disability and their families around Australia still struggle to access and maintain education in regular school alongside their non-disabled peers, despite the right to an inclusive education being a recognised human right of people with disability and supported under Australian law.

“Images of students with disability together with non-disabled students affirms the right of all children to go to school together.”

Malaquias said it was also a question of corporate responsibility.

“[It] is about businesses making a positive contribution to the societies of which they are a part, including through practices that promote the recognition and realisation of international human rights,” she said.

“There are multiple tangible benefits for business in including people with disability in advertising.

“Internally, the sustained inclusion of people with disabilities in core advertising demonstrates company values around diversity and builds trust with employees with disabilities.

“This is important in attracting talent and ensuring that employees feel welcomed, valued and empowered to disclose their disabilities so that they and their employer can benefit from workplace adjustments.

“Externally, disability inclusion in advertising connects companies with customers with disabilities – an international market estimated to be the size of China at 1.3 billion people and US$1.2 trillion (A$1.6 trillion)  in annual disposable income.

“Families and friends of persons with disabilities add another 2.3 billion potential consumers. Together they control over US$8 trillion (A$10.7 trillion) in annual disposable income.”

People with Disability Australia president Bonnie Millen said people with disability “shop, buy clothes and need to see themselves represented along with everyone else in the community”.

“We are pleased to see large businesses, like Target and Kmart, taking such an inclusive approach in their campaigns and we’d love to see other businesses following their leads,” Millen told Pro Bono News.

“Making it clear that people with disability are welcome as customers, which is what campaigns like this does, can only be good for the bottom line.”

“People with disability are part of the community – being included in campaigns like this says strongly that we belong and we matter.”

Target’s January catalogue also featured a Muslim mother wearing a hijab, with her son as he returned to school.

Dignity Party MP Kelly Vincent told Pro Bono News society and business can only benefit when the “wonderful diversity of the Australian community” is mirrored in advertising and all forms of media.  

“If you see yourself, or your child, represented in the products and services you might use, it sends a message that you and the young people in your life might be welcomed by that business,” Vincent said.

“It suggests to viewers and readers that no matter your gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability or age, you’re included in the target market for that organisation or business.”

She called on all businesses and organisations to “get the message” that representing the diversity of the community will “benefit their bottom line”.

“That’s whether you provide clothing, university degrees, health services or concert tickets,” she said.

“Most people in Australian society have some indicator of diversity – whether that be disability, cultural difference, gender, being part of the LGBTIQ community or they practice a different religion or something else.

“If you don’t represent it in your advertising, you’re missing out on targeting your product or service to more than half of the population.”

Diversity Council Australia CEO Lisa Annese said leading organisations know it makes “good business sense” to reflect the communities they serve.

“Customers who relate to the identity of a brand and can see themselves reflected in a company brand are more loyal,” Annese told Pro Bono News.

“This is even more pronounced in the case of communities who have been marginalised or who haven’t seen themselves represented in mainstream advertising.

“But beyond the benefits for organisations, diversity in the media is good for all of us. Especially young children.

“Seeing people like themselves reflected back in the media has been linked to improvements in children’s development. (In fact, that is one of the reasons that the show Sesame Street is so diverse and has been such a success for so many years).”

But Annese said diversity alone was not enough.

“To unlock the benefits of more diverse thinking, creativity and increased return on investment they must be committed to inclusion,” she said.

“In many ways, advertising can be ahead of the game when it comes to representing the diversity of Australia in the media.

“But there is still much more that can be done.

“The positive reaction from the vast majority of the community to this campaign will hopefully spur more organisations to follow suit.”

In a bid to encourage more businesses to use people with disability in advertising, Starting With Julius has been providing businesses with information about what is inclusive advertising and how it is relevant to and benefits them and the communities in which they operate.  

“We have worked with Kmart Australia and Target Australia in relation to the inclusion of people with disability in their advertising and we are continuing to reach out to other brands,” Malaquias said.

“We hope more will follow Kmart and Target’s lead.”

Target said inclusive advertising was not new from them.

“At Target Australia we aim to represent the diversity of all Australians in our marketing materials, and our back to school catalogue is no different,” a spokesperson said.

“We are pleased to feature all models who reflect the Australian population – who are our customers and team members – which has always been part of our inclusive culture.”

A Kmart spokesperson told Pro Bono News the latest campaign was an extension of their broader and “very important focus” on improving diversity within their business.

“At Kmart Australia we want to reflect every person who walks into our stores – whether they are a team member, a customer, a contractor or supplier,” the spokesperson said.

“Inclusion is important to us at Kmart no matter a person’s race, gender, ethnicity, age, ability, appearance or attitude and we are focussed on continuing to improve on this commitment.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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