Culture and research

(REALLY) INCLUSIVE BRANDS? - A question of authenticity

08 Jun 2021

Manuela Linari

How do we relate to others? What skills do we need to feel “accepted” and integrated in different contexts? In the successful short story My brother chases dinosaurs, which became a film, Giacomo Mazzariol writes "They laugh at us because we are different, and we will laugh at them because they are all the same". Observing something we are not used to often leads us, at least at first, to distance ourselves from it, particularly when the differences are physical and more or less obvious. What happens when the “desirable” looks different? How, for example, does disability – the “invisible” - fit into a context based on visibility? There are many campaigns with unfortunate copy that reinforce old clichés, strong men driving fast cars or those that perpetuate the image of a woman with a tiny waist whose greatest aspiration is to be seductive and have a shiny house. The relationship with one’s body is often difficult, particularly for women, who have always been asked by the image industry to perform the dual task of being attractive, but also belonging to the sphere of motherhood.

Having a good relationship with one’s own body also depends on the models we are presented with as children. This is why, faced with the vacuum left for so long by large-scale distribution, some toy brands have begun to rethink their commercial strategy, helping to make the invisible visible. A few years ago, the #toylikeme social campaign launched in England by some parents denounced the lack of toys that represent disability, and it is precisely this context that the initiatives launched by the brand Mattel fit in. After having long pursued perfection and unattainable beauty with Barbie, today it is offering the market different representations of the most famous doll on the planet.

MANUELA LINARI. Marketing & Communication Manager

So here she is with different body types and skin tones, over 20 shades of eye colour and different hair styles, as well as some disabilities: with an artificial limb; without hair, following chemotherapy treatment; and a doll with a jointed body using a wheelchair, thus dispelling the common stereotype of those who think that people in wheelchairs cannot move. Recently, Disney has also been working to expand the range of its consumer products in this direction, with the creation of a series of inclusive role-plays designed for different accessibility needs: Mickey Mouse ear headbands with adjustable straps for children with special needs, or Cinderella and The Incredibles costumes for younger wheelchair users with matching covers.

The concept of diversity does not encompass the whole of a person, it does not determine the whole person, it is about the dimension of the individual’s need in a given context. And (truly) inclusive marketing initiatives respond to the specific needs of those who make problem-solving a constant in their lives. Examples include Tommy Hilfiger’s Adaptive line with magnetic closures, zips with larger sliders, side openings and elastic belts for garments that are easier to wear for people with disabilities, and IKEA's product innovations This Ables with 3D-printable solutions that help with everyday tasks: opening a door, closing a drawer, switching on a light. Airbnb has also worked in this direction, adding filters to make it easier to find suitable accommodation for guests” different needs: a house that doesn’t have stairs, a shower with a chair, large rooms to allow better movement. So perhaps the point is something else: not what skills we need to have to feel included, but what skills a society must have in order not to disable people, a society that creates the best conditions for dealing with different personal dimensions in different contexts. There are more and more initiatives from companies moving towards change: from the creation of accessible products to campaigns aimed at raising awareness of the importance of inclusion or featuring people with disabilities in commercials, as Zara or Gucci have done, for example, or even actions aimed at integrating different types of disabilities into the business.

Already in 2019, the Virgin group had worked on the theme of work placements by launching the #WorkWithMe campaign to encourage companies to change with a view to inclusion, and CoorDown’s international campaign titled "The Hiring Chain" – it’s very recent and has gone around the world: with the strategic support of LinkedIn, it invites companies to be more inclusive by triggering a virtuous circle of new opportunities for everyone that can potentially change the world. Therefore, corporate inclusion should not be treated as a managerial “version” of other competences but should use a systemic approach that can really have an impact on corporate strategy, its evolution and relevance to the market. And, why not, on society.

Photo Credits: Anna Godeassi

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