Everybody Plays: Celebrating the Fact that Every Child is Unique
Infantino and Step 2 Toy Companies Celebrate Children with Special Needs with their Advertising Campaign Everybody Plays
Last week, I had the privilege of photographing Everybody Plays, an advertising campaign for Infantino and Step 2 Toys, for the third consecutive year. But I am not a product photographer by trade; I am a lifestyle photographer by heart. For both of these companies, the latter is fortunately what’s important to them. More specifically, these companies are dedicated to implementing marketing which embraces children of all abilities—the mission behind Everybody Plays.
Fifty children participated in the two-day photo shoot, and while half of these children had labeled disabilities (including down syndrome, autism, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, congenital heart defects and blindness), the focus of the event—and consequently, the images captured from it—was inclusion. Every baby plays. Every child explores. Clearly, that was evident as each family who participated in this event watched from the sidelines and laughed as babies crawled over each other and traded toys, kids pushed each other in colorful coupes, and adults clapped and cheered or jumped in to offer Cheerios. As one mom put it, “They’re all perfect. They all belong together.”
This campaign was first born in the heart of Colette Cosky, marketing director at Infantino and mother to two children—one who happens to have Down syndrome. “As a nationally recognized brand,” Colette said, “We have the power to help foster the acceptance of all kids by ensuring their representation in all forms of advertising. Our intention is to make reality the new norm and reduce the stigma that often surrounds children with special needs.” The result of this campaign is, of course, a collection of images which are used in marketing from social media ads to packaging found in Target, Walmart, Costco, Babies ‘R Us and sold internationally. However, the real outcome of this campaign extends far beyond product images. When you begin to hear from the families represented by these photos, you understand more what this kind of marketing means to them.
Katie Driscoll is the mother of six children. Her only daughter, Grace, has Down syndrome and participated in Everybody Plays this year. “As I watched my daughter dance and play with her peers, I fought back tears of happiness,” Katie describes. “This is what I dream of for her. I want her to live in this world as a little girl—a person—not as a diagnosis. This is the way it’s supposed to be. We live in a world that is influenced daily by imagery developed by advertisers. My hope is that when people realize the message that Infantino and Step 2 are sending to families, others will get on board.”
While companies like Target, Nordstrom and, most recently, Wet Seal are making efforts to represent differently-abled individuals in their advertising, more needs to be done. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2005-2006 report), 21.8 percent of U.S. households with children have at least one child with special health care needs. With more than one fifth of American families with children experiencing some kind of special needs, shouldn’t we be visually representing these families in our advertising? As a parent of three unique children, I know that I feel more loyal to a company and eager to support them when they make efforts to recognize that not all children look, talk or grow the same.
Obviously, advertising campaigns like Everybody Plays have important significance to families affected by special needs, but perhaps they’re most important for families who don’t have additional challenges with their children. By using images that incorporate inclusion and celebrate unique differences, we are subtly teaching consumers that this is the real world we live in and that every child needs to be recognized for their abilities. A perfect example of how this campaign can powerfully change perspective is the way it’s inspired the team members that make up Everybody Plays—most of them Infantino and Step 2 employees who do not have a child with special needs. As Ashley Szeremet, Step 2’s social media manager describes, “The surge of emotions during the week of Everybody Plays was intense. I smiled, I laughed, I cried. I witnessed an overabundance of love between parents and children. Seeing the beauty in these parents’ eyes as they looked at these children was something I will never forget. It made me want to be a better person; to be a better mom.” For one week these team members dedicated their time to Everybody Plays. They sacrificed putting their own children to sleep, hauled in props from home, made airport pick-ups and hotel drop-offs and hugged a lot of moms and dads and babies. Through it, we were all reminded of the things that unite our children–curiosity, creativity and the need to explore and learn and be loved.
And for me? As always, it was an amazing experience to photograph these children and to be part of this campaign. But it hits me when I get home. After packing up my gear and flying back across the country to my own family, after scanning the images we captured throughout the week, after returning to the routine of tucking my own children in their beds—it hits me. Our family is that 21.8 percent, and I now truly understand what it means to have a company say to my child, “We see you. We celebrate your uniqueness. We’ll show the world that everybody includes you.”
It’s a mission we all need to support and continue to carry out.
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