Just One of the Guys – A Critique of the Wheelchair Basketball Guinness Commercial

I think it’s safe to say one of the first things students learn in Marketing and Advertising 101 is that one of the best ways to pull viewers in is to tug at their heartstrings. A prime example of this approach can be seen in a new commercial for Guinness beer.

As I started to watch the ad, I was impressed by the accurate portrayal of a wheelchair basketball game, enough so that I could (almost) overlook the sappy background music. But then, as the men exit the gym, a deep voice goes on to say: “Dedication, Loyalty, Friendship…The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character.” To me, this seems to relegate disabled people to the status of a community service project.

The brand’s tag line, which is shown at the end of the commercial, is “Made of More.” Of course, this refers to the beer, but there is arguably a double meaning behind it. When a commercial makes you feel warm and fuzzy, you’ll associate those positive feelings with the brand that’s being promoted, thereby making you more likely to buy the product, which in this case, is the Guinness. Essentially, the underlying message of the ad is that it demonstrates good character when an able-bodied person befriends a disabled person. Those who do so are “made of more.”

At the end of the commercial, all the men who were playing basketball are hanging out and drinking Guinness. If Guinness had made a commercial in which a bunch of guys were out on a Friday night drinking together, and one of them just happened to be in a wheelchair, that would have been great. They could have made an inclusive ad without making it seem like spending time with a guy in a wheelchair means you’re a good person. He should have been just one of the guys without calling so much attention to it. Personally, if I made the commercial, I’d have had an empowering rock anthem in the background, eliminated the sap, and then after the game the guys would have gone out for drinks. That would be have been an awesome commercial.

Instead, Guinness objectifies disabled people. The message that choosing to be friends with a disabled person makes you a saint is constantly perpetuated by the media and it needs to stop. Disabled people are not here so we can make nondisabled people feel good about themselves. And yet, that’s exactly what this commercial seems to accomplish. You don’t have to take my word for it though; just read some of the comments under the video in the link I shared and you’ll see tons of people saying things like “this brought tears to my eyes” or “this was the nicest thing I’ve ever seen on television.”

Nicest thing for whom? Nice for you, the nondisabled viewer, because you can sit on your couch and feel momentarily good about the state of humanity? Would your eyes still well up with tears if the commercial showed a bunch of sweaty dudes without wheelchairs playing basketball and grabbing a beer? That doesn’t sound like a tear-jerker to me!

It is clear that the commercial tried to show the men building each other up and supporting each other, which is absolutely a great idea, but I question if Guinness considered how dehumanizing it actually is for disabled people to be depicted as needing kindhearted non-disabled people to pay them some attention. The friendship between the guys in the commercial is certainly portrayed as genuine, and that’s admirable, but why is friendship among diverse people so emotional and inspirational? That should be the norm…it’s 2013!

Including disabled people, whether in real life or in the media, is fantastic and definitely necessary. I’m obviously a huge advocate for inclusion both on and off the screen. But it’s time for advertisers and other media outlets to do it right. Disabled people are just people, not your good deed for the week. By representing inclusion of disabled people as inspiring, this both reflects existing social stigma and can cause nondisabled people to continue to subconsciously perceive us as somehow being less than. It’s time for disabled people to be portrayed realistically instead of stereotypically, because ultimately, everyone on this planet, disabled or not, is just one of the guys.



      1. Emily, thank you so much for your thoughtful take on this commercial. I was very inspired by this add, and I must say until I read your post I never thought of the add from a disabled person’s perspective. That being said I still have a bit of a different perspective. And seeing as I am typing this (and not talking to you in person), while I might disagree with you, please note that I am not attacking you. I only wish to discuss further because the topic of this add, all angles of it, fascinates me. I’m looking at this all primarily from the perspective of being a male. In my view, the add is portraying a group of men, among which there is one who is disabled, leaving him as the group member who has a clear and obvious distinction. In his case, all of his friends rallied to support him by engaging in an activity that they were all capable of doing together. I imagine that if I lost the use of my legs, and my guy friends did this for me say once a week on weekends, I would feel like the luckiest person in the world with a very unique and special group of friends. By that rationale, I took the “Made of more” comment to pertain to groups of male friends, finding creative, loving ways to support each other, as the quality which sets them apart. I believe that Guinness is also trying to say that they are “made of more” because their commercials are certainly in stark contrast to the more juvenile ways that other beer companies portray male support of one another, by say making fun of each other and emasculating each other in front of an objectified female under the guise of “its all in good fun”. Perhaps I’m clouded by my emotion over this add, but It is a breath of fresh air to see a beer company stepping up and portraying men respectfully for once.

        I hope I didn’t offend, I’d love to hear your thoughts, thanks for reading.


        1. Hi Matt! Certainly, you did not offend me at all! I cannot say enough how much I appreciate hearing differing views, and the respect and honesty with which you shared yours is refreshing! You make excellent points about how this is a breath of fresh air from stereotypical portrayals of men, especially in beer commercials. Comments like yours make me see this commercial through new eyes in some ways, just as my critique of the ad made you stop to consider a different perspective. The show of friendship and brotherhood is definitely an important aspect of the commercial, as is your note about how they are not objectifying women. Thanks for your thoughts!

  1. “the underlying take-away message of the ad is that it demonstrates good character when an able-bodied person befriends a disabled person”… this line… this mindset drives me CRAZY!
    I am really enjoying your blog 🙂

  2. It is interesting how I saw this totally differently. I figured the guys were old buddies, as most guys are, and that since one of them was now/had become disabled (maybe due to a car accident, or whatever), his buddies decided to start playing wheelchair ball to keep the cameraderie they likely had from playing sports together before. I’ll admit that I teared up, blame the music, but as a marketer, and the sister of a disabled woman, I don’t think you can fault Guiness for making a good commercial. Damned if they do (include a handicapped person), but the reality is most brands just don’t.

    1. Kate, I think the question is, in what ways is it a good commercial? For marketing purposes, they’ve done their job! And including disabled people is fantastic, for sure. I just feel there are other ways to go about it.

    2. Yeah .. the message I took away from it wasn’t “befriending a disabled person makes you a good person”, it was loyalty, friendship and making the effort to tailor your activities so that all your friends can participate….

  3. I see your point and I truly understand why you say that the commercial makes the wheelchair player out to be the charity case, but I’m able bodied and have played quad rugby for a charity event before. There was nothing sad about the men I played with, but I think it says something about the kind of person it takes to stick by a friend, or form a bond with a person who’s life has been altered in an unfathomable way. Quad rugby was fun, but 10/10 times I’d rather play real rugby. In my opinion, the guys that can walk were being good friends to a long time buddy. My assumption was that the man was their friend before he was in a wheelchair and after whatever accident occurred, the men all stayed friends and stuck by their friend through tragedy, as if nothing has changed. The message I received was that not every person in a wheelchair needs to be treated like a person with polio, they can be active healthy people. Just some thoughts to play devil’s advocate.

    1. Matthew, I always love when people play devil’s advocate, so I appreciate your comment! Just to address a few things: you mention that you played quad rugby for charity, and yet you say you see the point about disabled people being charity cases. Also, people with polio can lead active, healthy lives. And indeed, it is wonderful to remain friends with people who face difficult life experiences!

  4. I understand your view of this commercial and it is a valid point. Its just that when I viewed the commercial, I saw it differently. In my mind, the point of the commercial was not that befriending a disabled person was of good character, but that caring for and showing respect for your friends was the remarkable quality.
    So many times in advertising we see guys bashing each other or acting immature in advertising. This ad, to me, showed that your choices to be mature and respectful were what caused you to be “made of more”.
    I hope you don’t see this as offensive because my interpretation doesn’t account for the fact that the person being shown the kindness was, in fact, in a wheelchair. In my mind, this was because i did see him in the commercial as just being one of the guys.
    This is just my somewhat uneducated but thoughtful opinion on the subject. I’d love to have feedback.

    1. I think this is a fantastic viewpoint. You make an excellent argument that respect and maturity are the important characteristics on display in the commercial. Perhaps there are ways to show the men are mature and respectful without it being at the expense of disabled people? That being said, I quite like your interpretation of the idea of “made of more!” Thank you for sharing it with me!

      1. I don’t think it was at the expense of disabled people… I think they wanted to portray the strength and depth of male friendship that is often overlooked and even denigrated in media. They chose to do this by using the example of a group of dudes that want to play basketball together and because one of them is disabled, rather than exclude him from the game (“Hey Mike, yeah we’re all gunna go play some basketball… meet up with us after for beers?) they decided as a group to learn how to play wheelchair basketball so they could all play together….

        It wasn’t saying “hey, being friends with a disabled guy makes you a good person”, it was saying “hey, being a good friend means making the effort to not leave someone you love and care about out”… it would have been easy for them to only include their disabled friend in non-physical activities, rather than 5 of them learning to play wheelchair basketball (which is damned challenging!!!). It would be easy to simply not think about how it might make him feel when all his friends can do something that he can’t.. to assume that inviting him to join them for beers after the game was enough. The fact that the guys care enough and display enough empathy to recognize and consider how being left out would feel to their friend means they are “made of more”. They went above and beyond to include their friend, when I’m sure he would have been perfectly happy being friends with them and watching from the sidelines… but being part of the game is so much more fun!

  5. Hey there!

    As much as I respect and completely understand you’re view on the commercial I think the reason you have a specific understanding of it is due to you being a woman. And in no way do I mean that in a disrespectful way but rather in the very true sense that men and women tend to see things differently and respond emotionally to things in very different ways at times. As a self proclaimed “sensitive” man I have come to realize that many companies and media in general put out an image of heartless cold physically strong men as “real men”. In such cases men like me in the nice guys finish last group of men, we feel put down and discriminated against because we’re “soft” or we’re to caring. This commercial though made me feel proud. I drink Guinness either way so it wouldn’t change that but the feeling of pride it gives a man when it indirectly says that real men have hearts and would do anything to include a brother and/or to be included with them. In my eyes it isn’t so much about charity as much as it is about connection between friends. A bond of brotherhood that nothing can break. Having disabled friends as I do they are never “the guy in the wheelchair” or anything like that. If anything some receive more respect than non-disabled because their strength and inability to quit or give up. In the end that’s just my opinion and cannot speak for the company as far as their idea of the ad and what it means to them but it got conversations going and that is always a good thing regardless.

    1. Stephen, you certainly make a fascinating point about how my gender intersects with my interpretation of the message behind the commercial. Thank you for pointing that out!

  6. I could, quite honestly, kiss you for writing this! Aside from everything you’ve already said, I found something else a bit difficult to swallow. The use of the word “dedication”, whose dedication are they referring to exactly? I took that to mean the disabled guy, who “despite everything” *cringe* puts in enough determined effort to enable him to still participate in sports and thereby maintains his position as “one of the guys”. This sort of guff drives me crazy, to me it’s along the same lines as the gymspirational memes that depict prosthetic wearing athletes with the tag line “What’s YOUR excuse?” as if somehow, all it takes is a bit of grit and determination to overcome anything, and if you’re unlucky enough to be a disabled person that can’t achieve the same, then you’re obviously “doing disability wrong” and should up your game. Conversely, if you’re an able bodied person who can’t achieve anything that a paralympian could do, then you should REALLY question what you’re doing with your life. Or does “dedication” in this case, refer to making a weekly commitment to someone “less fortunate” than yourself *cringes again* like it’s some sort of chore to be completed, so you may then bask in the afterglow of self-righteous smugness at your charitable endeavours? Either way, it’s nauseating.

    To place these able bodied guys on a pedestal, as if they’re some sort of paragons of virtue, is wrong. Being a good friend should automatically denote being inclusive regardless of race, sexual orientation or mobility status – condescending to play at being disabled for a while isn’t a mark of friendship, character or moral fibre, it’s just patronising and personally, I find it offensive. Can you imagine the justifiable public outrage if, for instance, the marketing team had instead depicted a bunch of white guys blacking themselves up once a week so that their friend of colour felt more included? There they were, all guys together, you didn’t actually realise they weren’t all people of colour until the white guys removed their make-up at the end, did you? How heartening, as if they’d go to those extraordinary lengths to accommodate their poor black friend, such obviously nice chaps! Or, what about a group of guys that dress up as women every once in a while as a mark of solidarity for their Trans friend? You thought it was a group of women, admit it, until a close up revealed all but one had a hint of stubble, but bless them all for their inclusiveness! Perhaps the next advert might wish to show the guys disregarding women for the night and chatting up other men just so that their gay friend doesn’t feel awkward or uncomfortable? No? Exactly. People are people and a big song and dance shouldn’t have to be made about accepting someone for who and what they are, that’s called being a decent human being and nobody should feel comfortable being applauded for what is essentially, basic common decency. I’d be interested to know if Guinness actually approached any disability groups for feedback before ploughing ahead with the campaign. My guess is, no.

    1. I thought about giving an equally lengthy response, but I realize I couldn’t have expressed a lot of this any better! Thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts and for pointing out how the commercial might translate if other types of diversity were shown!

    2. Once again no disrespect but your opinion is almost obviously exclusive to your gender especially after having a large conversation about it with guy friends(and a few women) you are doing the most damage by assuming that the disabled person in the commercial in any way needs your defense. As my male wheelchair bound friend said during our conversation you are doing the exact same thing you talk down on by assuming he needs your defense. He loved the commercial for the exact same reasons I pointed out in my last post that women just won’t understand. He also said that for people saying that disabled people should be treated as human beings and not special you seem to think he needs special defense from you. As I said before though his thoughts may be different since he is a guy but as a disabled person he completely disagrees

      1. I absolutely see where you’re coming from, and I know that not all disabled people, and certainly not all nondisabled people will agree with my perspective. And in a way, yes, my analysis calls attention to the very issue I am trying to counter. But in no way was my intent to defend the disabled person. Rather, I’m analyzing why it is that disability is used as an advertising tactic that touches your emotional side. Your perceptions of the portrayal in the commercial as a positive show of a “bond of brotherhood” are just as important as a “bond of sisterhood” would be to me, but what I am addressing here is that the brotherhood in this commercial is “feel good” due to the use of disability. It could still be a celebration of a brotherhood without objectifying disability.

    3. instead of arguing with you to try getting you to see this from a different eye, i want u to think about this parody instead of your “blackening skin” parody. In a high school near me all the guys in the senior grade shaved their heads before graduation pictures to make one student who was a cancer patient feel more comfortable.
      And my other question is if this commercial wasn’t posted by guiness but instead the “wounded warriors project” would you have reacted differently, firstly to the whole thing, and secondly to the word dedication?

      1. I would like to respond here just to mention that cancer and disability are two very different things, and this comparison does not work. Cancer is truly a tragic, deadly illness. Disability is not tragic – society makes it so. You do, however, make an interesting point regarding how the commercial might be perceived differently if it was for something such as the Wounded Warriors Project instead of Guinness.

    4. I believe your comments about a group blacking their faces or dressing as women to accommodate a friend is an argument taken to nit picky, reactionary, overwrought levels of ad absurdum. That doesn’t mean I mindlessly embrace the ad. It left me more curious and wondering than warm and fuzzy. I with a bit of googling I found the ad appears to be a ripoff of one done in India for a dairy product. That ad was far superior, using uptempo, hard driving music with none of the sentimentality of the Guiness commercial. I think it was dumbed down and sugar added to make an impact on the American public and media. Nonetheless, the commercial is a refreshing change from the typical American ad and the depiction of relentless, mindless sameness of the American male. There may be some truth to that depiction, but I say, as a woman, there’s nothing wrong with encouraging a bit of thoughtfulness for a change. I would love to hear what actual wheel chair users think of the ad since so many of us with no or different physical limitations have weighed in. Chide me for using the word limitations if you must, but I can tell you that with some of the injuries I have incurred over the years, though still up and about on two feet, I do, dammit, face some limitations!

      1. Toni, you ask to hear opinions from “actual wheelchair users”? That’s really quite presumptuous because I am one – is anything I have to say still “reactionary” & “nit picky”? The whole point of me mentioning how other marginalised groups might have been represented WAS to illustrate the complete and utter absurdity of the idea, they just wouldn’t have gone there, but to use a disabled person in this manipulative manner is okay is it? Out of all the ways they could have possibly depicted thoughtfulness, kindness, being supportive friends, why did they deliberately choose this one? Why the “tear factor” soundtrack to accompany it? The very use of that particular soundtrack clearly sets the agenda and tone of the piece. I felt they used disability expressly to illicit an emotive response and personally, I find that both unhelpful and distasteful. My 14 year old (able bodied) son also bristled when he watched it and found it as patronising as I did. Other (able bodied) people I know that have watched it thought it was great, so each to their own I guess.

  7. The kindness wasn’t their friendship with the disabled man, their kindness was accommodating the fact that he couldn’t play the form of basketball that non-wheelchair-users play, and so they played a game that they could all play.

    If your friend is blind, it would be kind to say, when you’re hanging out with them, let’s go to a concert rather than an art museum.

    Same thing.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your viewpoint, but that isn’t quite what I was getting at. It’s important to be kind and accommodating to everyone without being patronizing!

      1. I guess I don’t see what is patronizing about it….

        They could have used all sorts of examples to make the point they were trying to make, but they happened to go with the wheelchair basketball example…. like DP said, it’s about tailoring your group activities to ensure that everybody can participate fully.

        When I broke my right arm a few years ago, my friends (a mix of men and women, but mostly men) all chose to throw with their left hands when we played football so that I could participate on an even playing field.. same concept! They could have just not included me in the game, which wouldn’t make them bad friends, but they instead chose to tailor the game to MY ability at the time which makes them GREAT friends! It would have been easy to just not even think about how sucky it was for me to have to just watch – a totally understandable oversight – but because my friends are “made of more” they put themselves in my shoes, thought about my feelings, and changed the game accordingly – just like the guys in the commercial (except they went even further beyond by learning a super challenging new game for the sake of inclusion).

        1. Sara, I appreciate your insightful analysis. I still stick to my feelings that there deep seated issues in the commercial regarding society’s perception of people with disabilities, but you are absolutely right that it is a sign of great friendship to accommodate a friend’s needs. Great friendship is about being inclusive, indeed, and I can see where you are coming from with your assertion that the commercial is about celebrating friendship and not being patronizing to disabled people. However, I see some of the mentality I am addressing in my post within your response, when you say: “They went above and beyond to include their friend, when I’m sure he would have been perfectly happy being friends with them and watching from the sidelines.” This removes the focus from the friendship and still indicates that it is considered going out of your way to be accommodating to disabled people, when accommodations should be the norm, and great friendship between people of all abilities should be the norm.

  8. This is an incredibly inciteful article. Having watched this ad for the first time I felt a sense of pride and hope in humanity. From an advertising standpoint I believe that there is nothing wrong with exploiting the mentality of the general public to provoke a targeted emotion. Assuming that this is the most effective method of marketing. That being said, as a non-disabled person I did not realize that pity was the driving factor for these emotions. I agree that a bad ass rock anthem would be appropriate to set the emotional foundation for the ad. It would still strike an emotional connection to the audience emphasizing comeradery and humanity without exploiting the generalizations of the majority toward the disabled.

  9. Thanks for this post, Emily. I hate how easy people will fall for commercials without taking a step back and thinking about what they actually just watched. Because much of our decisions are based on emotion, Guinness knows that people will instantly connect this commercial to warm and fuzzy feelings instead of analyzing the commercial and what it actually portrays. Loved your perspective and I hope more people read this entry, because you are so so right.

  10. Wow – I 100% didn’t view this commercial the way you did. Thankfully I believe most people didn’t either!

    This commercial is a refreshing change from the overwhelmingly negative and embarrassing beer commercials that associate beer with getting laid with ‘chicks’. To make it out to be an attack on disabled people is really stretching it…

    1. My emphasis was not that it is an attack on disabled people, but that disability is used as a “feel-good” marketing ploy. It is indeed a refreshing change from stereotypical partying beer commercials, but I stand by my analysis.

  11. It was a nice show of friendship and you are really working hard to portray it as something unkind.

    I see this commercial as part of a positive trend in showing people being inclusive and mindful of others.

    We are all going to be a lot happier when we accept gestures of kindness as just that, instead of looking for ways to interpret everything as an insult.

    I think you like looking for reasons to be angry and unhappy

    1. Quite the contrary! I am quite a happy person, and I am not angry with Guinness. Kindness and being patronizing are two very different things. Just as you believe I have misinterpreted the advertisement, you have misconstrued my intent in writing my critique. It was not a matter of unkindness. My goal was to make people see things from the perspective of a disabled person in a logical and rational way. Inclusion is fantastic and it truly thrills me to see it – when it’s done well.

      Also, the world would actually be a happier place if people learned to be kind in expressing differing opinions. It is so important to embrace the fact that there are many legitimate ways to perceive things. We should accept divergent opinions rather than making assumptions about the character of a person based on his/her opinion.

  12. Thank you for providing a different perspective, Emily. While I don’t necessarily see the commercial the way you did, it is still good to have your message as a reminder that anyone who intends approach a sensitive topic such as this should also have considered the perspectives of others who might be directly/indirectly affected. Now, please bear with my candid opinion on the commercial.

    The question, as you and some others have put across in many of your replies, is why is it necessary to use disability as a marketing tool? It seems as if we are saying that someone with disabilities needs our pity and directly/indirectly implies that he is ‘less’. On the contrary, I don’t see it as being ‘less’. Rather, I see it as being ‘different’. Being different doesn’t mean that one is less than others. But reality is also that when circumstances are different for someone, then doing something in the traditional way may not be ideal for that party, and it’s really about finding an alternative method for doing things.

    You see, how I interpreted this ad was that it is about a bunch of guys who are great friends, who enjoy spending time with each other and engaging in a common interest of basketball. One of their friends has a disability making it difficult to play the sport in a traditional manner. As such, because it’s really about the bonding time between friends that is most important why not let’s play the game in a different way so that we all enjoy the time spent together. In this sense, the word ‘Dedication’, ‘Loyalty’ and ‘Friendship’ is becomes a value that men recognize. It is about the bond between friends, between brothers. There is no wishy-washiness, nor sympathy or pity. It is just plainly finding that common ground among different individuals and being faithful to that.

    Why not look at it from a different perspective, in that every individual has a lesson to teach to others. Many of us have the first instinct of sympathy when seeing a wheelchair-user and we may think that the ad is trying to exploit this. However, I saw this really as a message from a disabled person and his/her friends to a non-disabled person. It was educating me that a disabled person isn’t any less – he is still just one of the guys. ‘Real men’ don’t harp on these differences and let it get in the way of ‘brotherhood’. They are ‘made of more’ than that. And that is exactly how the men in the ad interacted with each other. There was no coddling, no overflowing kindness. Just plain and simple bond of friendship.

    1. Fiona, thank you for such a polite and well-thought-out response. You make interesting counter-arguments to my critique. I quite like your thoughts in your last paragraph, and they have definitely given me something to consider.

  13. I don’t necessarily agree with all of your points, Emily, but I commend you for being so tactful and civil in your responses. It’s truly refreshing!!! 🙂

    1. Thank you so much! This is the kind of healthy debate I like to see! People who don’t agree can absolutely get along and even learn from each other! I have gained interesting new insights from some of the comments I have received!

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