Cerrie Burnell is a children’s author and actress changing attitudes towards disability through raising the profile of diversity. In this blog, she talks about why we need better representation of disabled people in the media, marketing campaigns and the public eye.
The household spend of disabled people amounts to more than £240 billion a year.
I’m not a person with a keen mathematical mind. 240 billion is a number I find almost unfathomable, like gazing at a clear night sky and trying to count stars, whilst simultaneously sipping wine – where would it end. But it’s not a fathomless figure, it’s a very real amount, and yet every year like stars at dawn, this amount of money slips away almost unnoticed by the marketing industry.
Why? Because the spending power of the disabled community has not been fully recognised. And more importantly positive representation has not been maximised. At all. The Pink pound, and The Grey pound are becoming part of our everyday life, and have landed firmly on the radar of marketers and boardroom bosses. Now, we have started to hear more about the Purple pound.
The purple pound
Purple. It’s the colour of mischief and regal gowns, and whilst it makes me think of the velvet curtains of grand theatres about to unleash drama on the world, it also holds a sense of rebellion. It’s not a colour that’s easily forgotten. I’m not entirely convinced that colour coding society by potential for spending is healthy, but it’s necessary for a brand to know who their customer is and as a member of the disabled community I have as much right to be that customer as anyone else. If labelling our money as purple achieves this, so be it. Money like people has the same value regardless of colour.
Britain’s 13 million disabled people have recently been recognised for their spending power, and now accessible products and services are being developed each day by big brands. But the disabled community aren’t solely interested in seeking out accessible products, we’re already spending money on regular products from well established brands. A wheel chair user may still want to wear stilettos. A person who is hearing impaired may want to buy headphones. Someone who is visually impaired might only wear Chanel Lipstick because it’s the shade their Grandmother wore. We are not separate from the rest of society, we are part of society, we are within the fold. Yet that’s not how we’re portrayed.
So, whilst it’s positive to see businesses starting to recognise the disposable income, that previously untapped consumers spend on retail, leisure, travel and in my case Malibu, Havaianas and ridiculously over-priced yoga leggings. What’s needed is more diversity to promote products (and services) as we also look to challenge attitudes around disability.
Getting representation in the media
Thankfully over the last few years we’ve seen brands like Smirnoff and Maltesers lead the way and feature disabled talent in their advertising. This is like a huge gasp of fresh air to me. And I’m delighted that following their campaign during last year’s Paralympics, Mars, the owner of Maltesers, has achieved much more beyond ticking the diversity box.
The adverts – a series of three commercials featuring awesome disabled talent, which I thought were both coy and hilarious – received so much positive feedback that Maltesers are now looking to extend the campaign to other markets. The largest of which being the United States and Canada. Which is great news and is exactly what we need to see more of! Bring it on.
But, more importantly for disabled people, this isn’t just about profit margins and big business. This is about us getting the representation we truly deserve. The fastest way to tackle negativity, discrimination, fear or even just insecurity is through genuinely inclusive media. Featuring underrepresented groups on our TV screens, telling diverse stories in books, newspapers and magazines is key to changing attitudes more widely.
Most disabled people still don’t feel they are well-represented in the media
At present, only 2.5% of all characters on TV screens are disabled. Eight in ten (81%) disabled people do not feel they are well-represented on TV. Shocker! That’s because we’re not, but this can very easily change. With the massive value of the purple pound looming like a spell of spending joy, big brands can promote disability whilst benefiting financially. Nobody is going to do it because it’s simply the right thing to do, it must be good business sense – and thanks to our spending power it is. Watch out world. The futures bright, the futures purple.
Cerrie supports Scope and with our mission to achieve everyday equality, so that disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else.