Ad of the Day: Stunning New ‘Superhumans’ Paralympics Spot Goes Well Beyond Sport

Channel 4's infectious musical might be the best ad ever made about disability

The U.K.'s Channel 4 pulls out all the stops, as well as a a few prosthetic limbs, for this joyous, awesomely over-the-top three-minute musical film celebrating the broadcaster's upcoming coverage of the Paralympic Games in Rio.

Propelled by a swingin' cover of Sammy Davis Jr.'s "Yes I Can," the spot, impressively staged by the in-house 4Creative team and Blink director Dougal Wilson, features not just athletes but disabled people of all kinds. They're competing in sports, playing in bands, working at various jobs, raising kids, ballroom dancing, flying planes—and more.

Because, of course, they can. And they do. Every single day.

More than 140 disabled folks appear in the ad, dubbed "We're the Superhumans," which serves as a sequel to Channel 4's lauded Paralympics spot for the 2012 London Games—a spot that won the Grand Prix for Film Craft at Cannes.

That earlier effort oozed intensity and grit, focusing on the origin stories of Paralympic athletes and the challenges they had to overcome. This latest film, though no less affecting, has an entirely different feel.

Channel 4 CMO Dan Brooke describes the tone as "an unbridled celebration of ability, by both elite Paralympians and everyday people. In 2012, we saw athletes like never before, but now we see that Down syndrome graduates and wheelchair users in the workplace are just as superhuman as blind sprinters and amputee weightlifters."

Casting was "essential to this piece of work," adds Alice Tonge, creative director at 4Creative. "We did a massive search to find people all over the world who have turned 'No, I can't' into 'Yes, I can.' "

The message is considerably broader in scope and more sweeping than the 2012 spot, and the nonstop positive vibes—driven by imaginative set pieces and inspired editing—are incredibly infectious.

"This campaign is the most important we have ever undertaken, and isn't just about Rio. It's about revolutionizing public attitudes to disability forever," Brooke says.

Indeed, the spot transcends its specific marketing mission and envisions a world in which all people can find fulfillment and achieve to the absolute best of their ability. It may well be one of the most inclusive ads ever made, presenting the integration of disabled people into virtually every aspect of daily existence with Glee-style musical abandon.

Particularly striking are its playful, surreal touches. These include a tap-dance routine with performers ringed by high-steppin', disembodied carbon-fiber legs, and big-band singer Tony Dee trading his fedora for a crash helmet and driving his wheelchair through a window.

Speaking of Dee, the dude channels his inner Sinatra to provide the smooth vocals on "Yes I Can," performing with a band of disabled musicians. The track will be released by Universal Music to benefit the British Paralympic Association.

Dee and others who appear in the campaign are profiled in a series of "Superhuman Stories" clips, some which you can watch below. In addition, posters shot by Nadav Kander are rolling out across Britain ahead of the Paralympic Games in September, for which Channel 4 will provide 700 hours of coverage and employ what it calls "the largest ever team of disabled presenters on U.K. television."

In a broader sense, this isn't just the story of folks without limbs who achieve great things (though that's an awesome story and it deserves to be told). In a broader sense, the entire campaign—along with Channel 4's coverage commitment—shows how far we've come as a society as we continue to cast aside fear, derision and shaming in favor of acceptance, inclusion and song.


Client: Channel 4

Agency: 4Creative

Director: Dougal Wilson, Blink

Editorial: Final Cut

Editor: Joe Guest

Executive Producer: Michelle Corney

Edit Assistant: Kit Wells

@DaveGian David Gianatasio is a longtime contributor to Adweek, where he has been a writer and editor for two decades. Previously serving as Adweek's New England bureau chief and web editor, he remains based in Boston.