Degree presses fitness industry as 81% of disabled people feel left out

Degree presses fitness industry as 81% of disabled people feel left out

Dive Brief:

  • Degree took out a full-page ad in Sunday’s New York Times calling out the fitness industry for its lack of support for people with disabilities, according to a press release
  • The open letter cites research from the nonprofit Lakeshore Foundation that revealed 81% of people with disabilities do not feel comfortable in fitness spaces. To address the issue, the Unilever deodorant brand set up a website listing trainers and coaches with disabilities who are ready for employment. 
  • Marketing support for the #TrainersforHire push includes a “Watch Me Move” ad developed with Edelman that features pro surfer and adaptability advocate Bethany Hamilton. Fitness classes and out-of-home (OOH) billboards that will tour New York City also factor into the campaign that looks to enact change and follows Degree’s introduction of an inclusive product line in the spring.

Dive Insight:

Unilever-owned Degree is harnessing its media power — including a full-page ad in The New York Times — to put pressure on the fitness industry for its failings around inclusivity. The rollout is timed ahead of National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October. 

The marketer views the problem as two-fold: that a majority of people with disabilities are uncomfortable in fitness spaces and that there is a severe lack of disabled trainers and coaches. To address the latter point, Degree has set up a website with a roster of qualified candidates spanning fields from CrossFit and powerlifting to paracycling. doubles as an educational resource offering tips for creating more inclusive spaces.

Bringing the concept into the real world, Degree on Sept. 21 will put on in-person cycling classes in New York City’s Flatiron Plaza led by Paralympic medalist and motivational speaker Blake Leeper. The event accommodates people with and without disabilities to demonstrate what a more balanced mix looks like. That day, the brand also plans to deploy mobile OOH billboards touting the 81% statistic to the offices of “major fitness institutions” around the city, although those companies weren’t specified in the announcement. Degree additionally wrote personal notes to executives at those fitness brands.  

The #TrainersforHire effort is the latest from Degree that tries to combat discriminatory practices in the fitness world as part of a larger Breaking Limits program. The “Watch Me Move” ad starring Hamilton, which first aired around the Paralympic Games, depicts a variety of disabled athletes gearing up for a workout and catching withering glances from other participants before proving those people wrong. Degree at the same time announced it is the first dedicated strategic partner of the United States Para Soccer Team. 

Through Breaking Limits, Degree has pledged to commit $5 million over the next five years toward removing obstacles to staying active. The marketer in April unveiled a line of experimental deodorants that cater to people with impaired vision and upper limb disabilities. The Degree Inclusive products, still in a beta-testing phase, were designed with agency Wunderman Thompson and outside experts, such as occupational therapists and engineers.

Other packaged goods brands have started leveraging their consumer-facing marketing to raise more awareness for social causes they view as important to their business. Procter & Gamble’s Secret Deodorant in 2019 took out a full-page New York Times ad demanding equal pay for women and men’s professional soccer. The print call-out followed the U.S. Women’s National Team — which Secret sponsors — winning the World Cup.

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