We’ve all heard the expression “You can’t be what you can’t see.” We know how valuable representation is—in literature, TV shows, movies, greeting cards, even video games. We know how crucial it is for kids to see diversity in leadership roles, in sports, in politics, in all career fields.
But another place children benefit from seeing diversity—all skin tones, all body types, all genders, members of the LGBTQ community, and children and adults with disabilities—is in advertising. And one company who consistently knocks it out of the park when it comes to diverse representation is our beloved Target.
And a little boy named Oliver who lives in Peoria, Arizona agrees.
Last year, his mother shared this post on Ollie’s World, the family’s public Facebook page.
It was shared and liked thousands of times, for obvious reasons. Oliver’s mom, Demi Garza-Pena, says that she noticed Oliver (Ollie) had stopped and was staring at an ad above a clothing rack.
“He couldn’t stop looking at it,” she said. “I could immediately see that he knew he had just seen a boy like himself. Something he has never seen before.”
A USA Today article explains that Oliver was born with Caudal Regression Syndrome, a rare condition that affects the development of the lower spine and organs. He moves through this world in a wheelchair, but rarely sees children who look like him represented in the media, especially in ads.
His mother, however, is optimistic that things can change after Ollie’s post went viral. “Seeing the post being talked about all over the world has given me hope,” she said. “I hope the conversation continues.”
And she and Ollie may just get their wish. They ended up connecting with the boy in the ad, a 10-year-old named Colton Robinson from Massachusetts. Colton has spina bifida and is also wheelchair-bound, like Oliver. The good news for both Colton and Ollie (and all kids with disabilities) is that Colton has landed other jobs, such as modeling for Toys R Us and even starring a TV show, his mom says. So this ad for Target definitely isn’t a one-time thing. It seems that companies are realizing, more and more, how vital representation is.
“We want to see people with different abilities, people with different sizes, just a wide range of different people,” Robinson tells USA Today. “I think more companies need to be aware of that, and honestly, it’s the future, and people are really starting to catch on.”
Target is catching on, for sure.
USA Today also adds a statement from Courtney Kanipes, executive team leader of human resources at the Target store in Peoria. “The cool thing about Target is we stand for an equal employment opportunity and getting to show that we truly care and we’re making a difference, even if it’s as slight as kids getting to see other kids like themselves and seeing that they’re not alone in this world,” she said.
I mean, that’s like one of the 9,000, cool things about Target, but it’s definitely a big one.
And this ad with Colton Robinson isn’t unique to Target’s ad campaigns. The company has shown, time and time again, that diversity and inclusion is at the forefront of their business model. Take their swimsuit ads, for example.
Not only does Target incorporate all skin colors and body types in their ads. They also include models like Jeyza Gary, who has Ichthyosis. Ichthyosis is a skin condition that causes the body to shed its skin every two weeks, creating rough dry skin on the body that has a scale-like consistency. Another Target model who shows their commitment to diversity and inclusion is Kiara Washington, a swimsuit model with a prosthetic leg.
Imagine the impact these ads have on girls shopping for swimsuits. Girls with varying skin conditions, girls with all different body types, girls with disabilities. The message at Target is clear—all bodies are swimsuit bodies.
Those of us who love Target not only for their Dollar Spot, but also for their support of diversity and inclusion, have known this about our fave company for years. Target was one of the first companies to boldly change their bathroom policies to allow transgender shoppers to safely use whatever bathroom aligns with their gender identity. And they consistently support and partner with Black-owned and women-owned businesses like Honey Pot, proving that everyone belongs at Target.
Of course Target is not the only company to recognize the value of diversity and inclusion in their ad campaigns, but they are setting the bar.
For example, the 2018 Gerber Baby, Lucas Warren, is the first in the company’s history to have Down Syndrome. Nordstrom is another company realizing the need for inclusion in ads, and includes model Jillian Mercado, who is in a wheelchair, in their campaigns. A model named Diandra Forrest for Wet ‘n Wild cosmetics has albinism. And we all know how committed Nike is to including diversity in their ads, including their latest Go FlyEase shoes that can be put on hands-free and were inspired by a letter from Matthew Walzer, who has cerebral palsy.
Even Girl Scout cookies are on board with this crucially important trend of diversity and inclusion. As USA Today reports, the latest cookie to join the Girl Scouts line-up is a gluten-free Caramel Chocolate Chip. The ad for this newest addition features three girls playing together, with Nicklya Brantley, who has vitiligo, in the center. Vitiligo is a disease that causes patches of skin to lose their color, and by including a model with this condition, Girl Scouts is sending a message to all girls that they are valuable and perfect, just as they are.
“We’re trying to convey that girls come in every size, every shape, from every community,” says Lynn Godfrey, the organization’s chief marketing and communications officer.
The world is recognizing, finally, that the human race is incredibly diverse, and that should be reflected in the images we see. Gone are the antiquated Disney movies with an all-white cast. TV shows have mixed-race couples, LGBTQ couples, and blended families now, rather than the traditional “Leave it to Beaver” black-and-white expectation of years past. Even Hallmark had LGBTQ couples in their Christmas movie lineup this past year.
And business are on board as well, with Target leading the charge. More and more, we are seeing women of all shapes and sizes in ads. We are seeing Black and brown skinned models as much as we are seeing white models. And we are seeing children and adults with disabilities—wheelchairs, crutches, prosthetic legs, and skin conditions that send a clear message. We all shop at Target, so we all want to see ourselves there.
Target gets it, and hopefully more and more companies will follow suit. It’s not only smart marketing, but it’s also fair and ethical. And most importantly, it helps marginalized customers who often might feel invisible, feel seen. So thank you, Target, for Colton Robinson, for Kiara Washington, for Jeyza Gary, and for all the efforts you continuously take to represent the beautiful diversity of the human race.