What it says on the tin
Paralympics is five days in and Australia is back to where they once came from on the medal tally. The event has really grown in stature this time around and a big part of the success can be credited to Channel 4’s “Meet the super humans” campaign. The main ad is given the Nike treatment with its competitive energy and gritty reality:
The way disabled people – and any other minority group – are being referred to is the topic of ongoing debate. What can and can’t we say? Such a debate is in itself condescending, as it firmly places the group in question in the nether regions of society’s food chain. No one discusses what to call white, middle-class, middle-aged men. This campaign bypasses the whole debate and with confidence changes the way we think about disabled athletes. It avoids condescension and definines them by their competitive and professional attributes rather than by their disabilities (it’s like having a gay character in a movie without the fact that he’s gay being part of the plot). Their disabilities are not things that hold them down, but rather hurdles they’ve had the strength to overcome. It celebrates the super human strength – mental and physical – which has been released by their disabilities, not any strength that is lacking as a result of it. And once we adopt this view, their actual performances become so much more interesting to watch.
This is the coolest outdoors ad I’ve seen in a long time. It has the confidence of Usain Bolt and in one line repositions the Paralympics from a charitable side-show to a separate event worth watching on its own merits. With this campaign London has set the bar for future Paralympics a way few other cities could have done, and continue to lead the way for great communication.
(Still missing from the discourse, however, and the ultimate sign of respect, is humour. Only when we truly see the person without seeing the disability will we stop being so terrified of offending anyone. And until then we’ll miss out on answers to the questions we all surely ask ourselves, such as why didn’t the guy with no arms choose running instead of swimming?)