Recent Robertson School advertising graduate, Daniel Golden, weighs in on Toyota’s 2021 Super Bowl advertisement in ADWEEK article.
Mar 23, 2021
Posted in: News
“It might not be easy, but it’ll be amazing”, said Jessica Long’s mother at the end of the 60-second spot. Then the Voiceover reads, “We believe there is hope and strength in all of us”.
All that's left out is the “even people with disabilities”. “Beautiful”, “inspirational”, and “heartwarming”. These are some of the comments that flooded the internet and social media in response to Toyota’s 2021 Super Bowl advertisement featuring Paralympic Gold Medalist swimmer, Jessica Long. Both the general public, and the advertising community, have lauded this ad as inspirational. However many of us in the disabilities community, particularly those who work in inclusivity, saw the ad through a different lens. If you’re especially keen on disability best practices, or how to appropriately share the stories of people with disabilities, you may have even rolled your eyes.
That is because we are all too used to this. In the disabilities community we refer to ads like this as “inspiration porn”. A term coined by late disability advocate, comedian, and Ted Talk speaker Stella Young.
“Inspiration porn” is the portrayal of persons with disabilities as inspirational solely - or in part - on the basis of their disability. This is objectifying, and not representative of the community. People with disabilities are not all inspirational. We are ordinary people who have struggles like everyone else. Most of us, are not Jessica Long. The emphasis at the end of the ad, on Long’s mother to move forward with the adoption despite the fact that it “might not be easy”, is an example of “saviorism”, the paternalistic urge to save someone from their own situation. It takes the focus off of the person and on to the disability. This is another reason why we prefer to write “person with disabilities” rather than “disabled person”. A good measure to check whether you are truly being inclusive or whether you are just creating inspiration porn is to take a step back and ask yourself “Does this ad still work if I replace the person with disabilities with a person of color, a woman, or a member of the LGBTQ community?” Would the Jessica Long ad have made it to air if the woman on the phone instead warned Jessica’s mother that the baby would be Black and have a more difficult life here in the US because of it? Most people would find that offensive.
If the entire ad hinges on the subject having a disability, nine times out of ten it is inspiration porn. And while advertisers may have the best intentions, they are inadvertently damaging the perception of people with disabilities. While I appreciate Toyota’s good intent, this ad missed the mark. There’s a saying in our community: “nothing about us, without us”. It’s important to involve people with lived experience in every stage of the creative process, from ideation, to copywriting, to art direction, to post-production. Showing a person with disabilities in an advertisement is a step in the right direction, but that alone does not make the ad inclusive.