UK broadcaster, Channel 4 has been breaking new ground recently with its portrayal of Paralympians as ‘The Superhumans’. During Channel 4’s coverage of the opening ceremony of the Paralympics, an advert was aired that was entirely in British Sign Language (BSL). The fact that it wasn’t accompanied by subtitles or a voice-over, makes it unique and, therefore, newsworthy.
It’s all down to UK TV channel, Channel 4. After its success and popularity in screening the London Paralympics in 2012, Channel 4 is now screening the Paralympics in the UK. The Channel recently launched an ad of their own to promote their coverage of the Paralympics: “We’re The Superhumans.”
Channel 4 then challenged UK brands to develop an advertising campaign with ‘disability and diversity at its core’. The prize was £1 million ($1.3 million) worth of airtime during their screening of the Paralympics.
The winner of the competition was the campaign for popular UK candy, Maltesers. It features three ads in which disabled actors tell stories of everyday situations involving their disability – and an element of humour. The ads include one in sign language and features a funny story about hearing aids.
Creators of the ads, AMV BBDO, aimed to ‘normalize disability’ with the use of disabled actors and funny anecdotes, “without taking away from the very real challenges that disabled people face.” They say they hope their light-hearted approach will help viewers think about disability in a ‘more open way.’ As with the rest of ads in their wider campaign, the tagline is ‘Look on the light side’.
“Rather than creating distance by putting disabled people on a pedestal, we believed we could achieve more by showing disabled people simply as… people,” says Cat Collins, strategy partner at AMV BBDO. “For Maltesers, that meant seeking out stories from their lives that they look on the light side of, just as the characters in the rest of our campaign do. It meant using a powerful weapon to break down discomfort, division and prejudice—a good laugh.”
Channel 4’s take on Paralympians as ‘The Superhumans’ and their ‘Yes, I can’/”No such thing as can’t’ stance, came in for criticism earlier this week from Guardian journalist Lucy Catchpole. Perhaps the Maltesers ads, with their ‘normalizing of disability’, will prove more popular with disabled people than the ‘Superhuman’ angle?
But promoting ‘The Superhumans’ and the Paralympics is not the only thing Channel 4 is doing this year in terms of disability. Back in January, it announced its ‘Year of Disability’ and made commitments to boost its representation of disabled people. One pledge was to double the number of disabled people appearing in 20 of Channel 4’s biggest shows, including Gogglebox, Hollyoaks and First Dates.
Actress Genevieve Barr, the star of the sign language Maltesers’ ad, was born deaf to a hearing family. Her acting debut came in July 2010, when she played a deaf teenager in the BBC One prime-time drama The Silence.
She has spoken to Phonak before, about how Phonak Roger system works with her hearing aids to help her hear better over noise and distance.
We’d love to hear your thoughts. Would you prefer to see yourself and your disability as a ‘normal part of everyday life’, or ‘Superhuman’? Or perhaps you like a combination of the two? What do you think of the new ads?