Why the Maltesers Campaign Must Not be a One Off.

TV advertising’s capacity to be a force for good has recently bubbled to the surface, following the launch of a new campaign from Maltesers that has brought new energy into the debate around the industry representation of people with disabilities.

Three ads aired during the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games have sent social media platforms into a frenzy, driven news publishers into a state of navel-gazing and, most importantly of all, challenged perceptions of what it means to have a disability.

The Campaign for Normalisation.

The campaign, which was selected by Channel 4 as the winning entrant in its contest to find the best creative brief centred on disabled characters, successfully reinforces the message that having a disability does not define who you are as an individual: we all undergo the same trials, tribulations, feelings and experiences, and should not be viewed or treated any differently to our fellow human beings.

It’s a powerful sentiment, bolstered considerably by the awe-inspiring feats of courage and skill currently on display at the Rio Paralympics. Yet of equal significance is the manner in which Maltesers has sought to convey its point.

Working closely with Scope – the charity founded to encourage open and inclusive discussions on disability and its representation in the media – and a focus group composed of people with disabilities, Maltesers and parent company Mars were extremely careful in crafting a creative angle that not only dismantled the lingering taboo around the subject, but did so in a way that was not insensitive. It quickly became apparent that humour was the way to go.

The campaign works so well because it cleverly utilises TV’s strength as an advertising medium that engages us on a deeper level than other media. The copy revolves around funny – not to mention gloriously risqué – everyday experiences that are identifiable to most viewers, forging an instant point of commonality between audience and protagonist that robustly challenges our perceptions of disability, without ever becoming too maudlin. That Maltesers cannily incorporated the creatives into its distinguishable ‘Look on the Light Side’ campaign further strengthens this process of ‘normalisation’.

More Needs to be Done.

However, whilst the Maltesers campaign is a start, there’s still a long way to go. There are 12.9 million people living with disabilities in the UK – one fifth of the population – and yet their representation on TV is woefully marginal. Channel 4’s coverage of the Paralympics every four years provides a powerful – and in equal measures wonderful – reminder of how similar each and every one of us are, but that alone is not enough.

Brands and broadcasters need to embrace and reflect the diversity within our society, and make the positive representation of disability – and ethnic minorities and homosexuality, while we’re at it – an everyday feature of our TV viewing experience. This would go a very long way towards comprehensively tackling and eradicating the prejudice and discrimination that still lingers, however much we like to think it doesn't. 

TV viewing is not the preserve of white, heterosexual, able-bodied audiences: whether we’re black, white, purple, straight, gay, transgender, have four limbs or three, can walk or are wheelchair-bound, we all love to tune in to the small screen – so why is it that representations of minority groups are so thin on the ground?

Maltesers has boldly invited us to think about the way we see and treat those with disabilities – and for this the brand deserves a lot of credit. Yet, the fact that we’re still proclaiming the representation of diversity in an advertising campaign or programme as ‘bold’ is a damning indictment on the industry. More must be done. TV can be a hugely influential force for good; let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another four years to see this manifest in all its glory.