Why marketers are increasingly creating products and campaigns for people with disabilities
When Schick Intuition launched 18 years ago, it wasn’t aimed at people with disabilities.
The women’s razor with a built-in shave gel reservoir was meant “to make life easier for everyone,” says Brud Fogarty, brand manager for Schick at Edgewell Personal Care. “But what we found through the course of a feedback and social listening, is that it has a really special impact on helping visually impaired women shave more easily."
A YouTube video from blind creator Molly Burke led Schick to approach her. Burke says in an interview that she had avoided shaving for years until she discovered Schick Intuition at age 25 and started using it regularly. “I couldn’t have been more excited" about hearing from Schick about a campaign idea, she says, "because it combined an actual product that I love with a message that I love about creating content accessible for everyone.”
The “Content for All” campaign that launches today from Edgewell’s in-house creative team and Burke with some PR help from Edelman is designed with some of the basics for making digital content more accessible for people with visual impairments, including alt text descriptions of images; CamelCase capitalization of each word in a compound word or hashtag to make it easier for software programs to read; captioning and narration for Instagram Story and other video content; and sans serif fonts for easier reading.
Schick discovered what a growing number of marketers are finding lately: People with disabilities are a big market even if they’ve been largely ignored for years. That oversight is ending for several reasons. One is an increased focus on diversity and inclusion generally in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and ensuing civil unrest last year. Then there's the growing wave of litigation against inaccessible e-commerce and other online sites, plus the realization that people with disabilities are just a market too big to ignore.
Still far to go
A Cannes Lions Innovation Grand Prix win for Unilever’s Degree Inclusive deodorant last week put an exclamation point on the industry’s growing focus on people with disabilities. But there's still a long way to go, according to Unilever.
Speaking to a virtual meeting of the Association of National Advertisers’ Global CMO Growth Council June 21, Unilever Chief Brand Officer and Chief Equity Diversity & Inclusion Officer Aline Santos said, “I think this group has advanced a lot in terms of advertising and how we represent people [with disabilities] in advertising.” But she added: “I don’t think we as an industry are doing enough in terms of developing products that really cater to those underserved communities.”
Unilever has stepped up more than most. Earlier this year it launched Degree Inclusive (along with Rexona Inclusive) which includes a hook that makes it easier to hang in the shower or bathroom; a magnetic latch that makes it easier to open; a large roller ball for easier application; and Braille on the packaging.
Beyond this, Degree and Rexona have moved to ensure all of the global brands' digital assets will be accessible for people with disabilities by next year. And Unilever corporately has said it aims to be the employer of choice for people with disabilities and by 2025 wants them to represent 5% of its workforce.
Having people with disabilities in the conversation clearly makes a difference. Degree Inclusive started with an idea from Christina Mallon, global head of inclusive design and accessibility for WPP’s Wunderman Thompson, who has dual-arm paralysis and found the difficulties she had using deodorant was affecting her life.
“I travel all over the world by myself for weeks at a time for work, and not being able to put on deodorant by myself limited how long I could go,” Mallon says. “And I realized I just wasn’t the only one.”
Explosion of interest
“It’s extremely important to partner with those people you’re trying to reach or talk about in your advertisements or products and have them consult,” Mallon says. Mallon finds in her work on the board of Inclusively, which matches employers to prospective hires with disabilities, an increased interest in hiring, too.
“The interest has been around, but has gotten even more focus after the murder of George Floyd,” says Mallon, who’s been in her current Wunderman role since 2017 and since 2016 with Open Style Lab, an incubator focused on creating inclusive clothing and product design solutions. “I’ve been much busier than I have been in previous years.” Other clients include Microsoft and the Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive collection.
Jason Taylor, chief innovation officer of UsableNet, which helps marketers adapt their websites and other digital assets for people with disabilities, likewise has seen a major uptick in interest over the past year, though the company has been around since 2000.
One reason, he says, is litigation—an uptick in lawsuits against marketers, particularly in e-commerce or direct-to-consumer brands—over sites or digital assets that haven’t been adapted, in alleged violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act, originally passed in 1990.
“It’s the biggest private lawsuit growth area in America right now,” Taylor says, with 3,500 active lawsuits over disability discrimination involving websites and mobile appes. Those suits cover things marketers are responsible for and can change, he says, such as captioning videos and other content.
Jim Rockney, attorney with Reed Smith, says the volume of cases has been rising for a few years, and the liability exposure is for retailers that have websites or mobile apps under ADA provisions requiring equal access to places of public accommodations.
At this point, federal circuit appellate courts are divided on whether a retailer needs to have a physical presence in the same state as the plaintiff. That has two implications. First, an online retailer conceivably could be sued by anyone in the U.S. over failure to provide accessible feaures. Second, Rockney says the divergence among appellate courts could mean the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately intervene.
Buying power figures in too
The litigation risk is just one factor that has online retailers are stepping up efforts to make their websites and apps accessible to people with disabilities, says Ryan Garrow, director of partnerships and client solutions for digital performance marketing agency Logical Position. Another part is recognizing that people with disabilities represent a big market that shouldn’t be overlooked. That's become increasingly important now that smaller e-commerce players face even tougher competition from big retailers Amazon and Walmart, which have piled back into heavy Google search advertising after a hiatus when they were doing so much business they didn’t have the capacity to drive more online sales anyway, Garrow says.
“I’ve been doing e-commerce about 12 years, and it’s only probably in the last year that [marketing to people with disabilities] is actually something our clients have been considering,” Garrow says. Online retailers are realizing, he says, “they can tap a group of people that’s previously been largely ignored and that competitors are still ignoring.”
The disability market is big, even if it has been historically overlooked. One in four people in the U.S. has a disability, including 22 million with either visual impairment or upper-body mobility disabilities, according to Unilever. Interpublic’s Magna estimates people with disabilities have $8 trillion in collective buying power.
Beyond the market represented by any one segment, designing around disabilities to improve user experience can simply have unexpected benefits, Mallon says.
Take the iPad. While it seemingly wasn’t designed for people with disabilities, it’s become popular among people with autism or other developmental or physical disabilities for the same reason other people like it: it’s easy and intuitive to use. But it was built that way, Mallon says, because its touch screen was originally developed by a University of Delaware researcher (Wayne Westerman) who had carpal tunnel syndrome. He then sold the technology to Apple.
“Designing for these edge cases creates innovation,” Mallon says. “E-mail, self-driving cars, voice controls—these are all things that meet the needs of people with disabilities that end up benefiting everyone.”