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Guinness Wheelchair Basketball TV Spot OK with Me

Guinness Brand Manager Speaks about TV Spot

By Greg Smith

Getting it “right” when presenting disability in the mainstream media has always been a moving target:  A non-disabled actor is cast in a disabled role.  An “inspirational disabled person” who has done nothing exceptional other than being or becoming disabled is anointed and celebrated.  A screenplay in which the disabled person would rather be dead than accept his or her new life is turned into a film.  Or an evil villain whose hostility is sparked by anger after the onset of a disability hits the box office.

Moreover, motion pictures and television seem to only have tolerance for those with less visible disabilities.  You won’t find any skinny, bodily contracted rolling skeletons like me on the big screen or the flat screen. There has never been a place for a person like me in the mainstream mass media.  That’s why I created my own. Depicting a proper reflection of society in the mainstream media is a vision people with disabilities share. And experiencing more of the same media blunders is frustrating.

But every now and then, baby steps in the right direction reveal that hope emerges.  The recent Guinness television spot, featuring wheelchair basketball players on the court, popping 3 pointers, smashing into each other and falling out of chairs is the newest major media offering to be evaluated.  At the end of the spot, all but one of the players rises to their feet and walks out of the gym.  Cut to a popular pub.  The group of friends is sitting down at a low table in a popular bar, enjoying a Guinness.  “Hot girls” arrive on the scene.  It’s a wheelchair dude’s heaven!  The spot is about friendship.  I approve.  It is not perfect, but it is a major step in the right direction.

There are plenty of my colleagues who disagree.  They have a problem with it being more about celebrating the “character” of the non-disabled friends who are kind enough to go through the trouble of getting in wheelchairs to hoop, and taking their poor disabled friend out for a beer.

“Context is important b/c the “got’cha” is central to the ad itself,” says Lawrence Carter Long, media enthusiast and co-host of “The Projected Image: A History of Disability in Film” which showcased 21 socially and culturally significant cinematic depictions of the disability experience to over 87 million households on Turner Classic Movies last October.  “If the spot was all about friendship there would be no need to trick audiences with the big surprise. But the twist is there and, if we’re serious about changing the perception of disabled people in society we would be foolish to ignore it.”

Lawrence Carter Long

I decided to go to the source and talk to Guinness Brand Director, Doug Campbell.  How did the spot develop?  How was the disability community involved in the concept?  What was the intended message?

What did you think of the spot?  Do you think it is about friendship?  Or is it about the character of the non-disabled friends who choose to involve their friend, the “victim” of unfortunate events?  I think it is a step in the right direction.  I think Guinness should be rewarded, rather than criticized.  If we continue to criticize every effort to include us, we will never be welcomed back and progress will never happen.

Please comment in the section below, rather than on my Facebook page.  Thank you!  Looking forward to your reaction.

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8 thoughts on “Guinness Wheelchair Basketball TV Spot OK with Me

  1. Hi Greg Smith this is Joshua Campos the head coach for the clipper chairmen out of L.A. ran across this interview and page from the internet and just wanted to say I totally agree with your opinion. If we support ads of this nature instead of criticize them people can be more open minded to when they see disabled people but more importantly educated about the disabled community. My big thing on this commercial that I told the producers and directors was that it will help people realize and educate that there is a very competitive world of sports out there for the disabled community and there actually is opportunity if your good enough, also give the sense to people not to feel bad automatically when u see a disabled person. For all you know that disabled person can be more successful more competitive and have accomplished more then you can say about yourself. And like Doug said my dads paralyzed but I look up to him very much and he has done amazing things that I have not yet accomplished being able body person so I live by this code.

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  3. Hey Greg

    It’s great that you went to the source to find out about the ad, and to be able to hear the thoughtful comments of Doug Campbell.

    I understand the criticism that you reference, but the only way we’re going to get used to thinking about ‘disability’ is by seeing it, and then thinking about it. I hope the agency and Guinness get some positive press for taking a chance and making people think…

  4. I left this comment on the Guinness page:
    “As a US veteran who is disabled, I loved your commercial about the guys in the wheelchairs. I reminds me of some of the many medical and physical therapy folks I know and worked with at the Sheridan VA Medical Center here in Sheridan, WY.
    But, the sad reality of the disabled isn’t always Wine, or should I say Guinness and Roses, as many ‘Normal’ folks, both friends and family, don’t know how to handle or socialize with their disabled friends, and tend to distance themselves from the disabled. I wish everything was like your commercial, and in some cases it might be, but not all. I still loved your commercial though.”

    Yes, the commercial was one of the better ones, and maybe, just maybe it’s sending a message to the non-disabled friends and family of the disabled to be a little more inclusive of the disabled, rather then exclusive. That’s all I’m asking. I don’t have the cooties, and you can’t catch what I have. And I still love the things that we use to do together, but now I have a few limitations, and not a deadly contagious disease. So, in conclusion, I look at this commercial as a teaching moment for the non-disabled in how to treat your disabled family and friends.

    Very Interesting blog by the way, glad I found it.

  5. Bob, the wheelchair user in our family, and I both thought the ad was okay. It came across to us as inclusion and leveling the playing field. The guy who used a chair couldn’t stand up to play typical roundball, so his friends decided that if they were all going to play, then everyone needed to use chairs….and did. They all played together and then drank together, as a group. Friendship isn’t pity, and this wasn’t a charity game….it was a CHAIRity game, where no one sat on the sidelines because everyone was in there mixing it up. As you pointed out, Greg, it’s not perfection, and there is still room for improvement, but definitely a roll in the right direction.

  6. Great interview, Greg! I thought that the Guinness commercial is excellent….to me, it’s about a bunch of guys being friends & wanting to play wheelchair basketball…..simple as that.

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