Debra Ruh is a digital marketing professional who enables people with disabilities’ voices to be heard and included in marketing and communications outreach. As the founder of Ruh Global Communications, a strategic communications and digital marketing firm, she strongly believes that social media empowers a diverse array of perspectives to be shared, and is optimistic about the future of digital.
Her business intrigued us, and we just had to hear her perspectives on digital marketing at large.
PA.O: In your opinion, how is programmatic advertising – the growing prevalence of marketing automation, data mining and the cloud – changing the world?
Debra Ruh: I think tools like programmatic advertising can teach us to more effectively market to clients and audiences. It will not replace people because the win is mixing both worlds – technology and humanity. I believe it can help us explore channels and directions that we have not considered in the past.
PA.O: What systems and ways of thinking do you think are being completely disrupted by the emergence of programmatic buying? By digital advertising in general?
Debra Ruh: I think marketing as a whole is being disrupted. It will be interesting to watch programmatic unfold because the brave souls that tap into the powers of these tools will have great successes. We can tap into the emotional and technological opportunities that marketing now holds for the world.
PA.O: We’ve often heard it said that “man is only limited by his imagination.” What might be the biggest growth areas for advertising?
Debra Ruh: Blending everything together – science, technology, traditional marketing, new media, programmatic – tying it all together to really change the world. For example, the bionic eye, ear and exoskeleton represent science and technology coming together to solve problems that people have had forever. Now, tie marketing into those discoveries and you wake people up to so many possibilities. We are in exciting times.
PA.O: In your opinion, what are some significant trends emblematic of today’s advertising philosophy? Do they align with your own opinion of what’s the most effective?
Debra Ruh: I think that many advertisers are missing many opportunities. People with disabilities and minorities are typically overlooked. People want to be part of the conversation – they want to be inspired and feel like they are part of the answers. Many advertisers forget who their true audience is or could be, and focus only on small, wealthy segments. I think we will have a lot of work to do, paradigms to shift and voices to hear.
PA.O: Can you discuss how digital marketing is changing to include people with disabilities? During a conversation with another marketer, we learned that just because a population is small, it doesn’t mean it is not influential.
Debra Ruh: Sometimes the most influential are those that aren’t that “influential” in a standard sense. Here is an example that is near and dear to my heart:
Richard Dawkins who is a very famous atheist, scientist, BBC Talking Head and professor at Oxford University who likes to pick fights with people – women, Muslims, Christians. On Twitter, he stated, “If your fetus has Down syndrome, abort it and try again.”
Needless to say, that captured my attention.
I sent him a picture of my beautiful daughter with Down syndrome and told him that she’ll never be a famous scientist, but she does add value to the world. It was retweeted by thousands of people and was picked as the Tweet of the Week by BBC. My number of followers (60,000) wasn’t much compared to his 1 million, but we attracted so much media attention that I acquired 3,000 new followers in 48 hours and many of those followers are some of my most vocal supporters.
Who is considered to be influential has obviously changed. Our opinions were influential to other people. Stupid, smart, good, bad – all people can be influential. However, not much is being done to include people with disabilities or people with acquired disabilities. All marketers need to re-think their marketing to appreciate their value.
One thing we have to do as a society is move away from talking about people with disabilities as charity cases and instead use an empowerment model. They are not a tragedy; disability is just a part of life.
At the end of the day people with disabilities are consumers. And the numbers are staggering – they are 1 in 7 of all people on this planet. I’m a consumer, my daughter is a consumer and my son is a consumer. If we know that you are actually trying to make sure my daughter is included in your service, products or marketing, you just got our attention – I become an advocate for your brand. You have all of these multipliers that come into effect.
PA.O: Can you tell us about any campaigns over the past year that have caught your attention (in a good or bad way)? Why did they stand out to you?
Debra Ruh: Since much of my work focuses on disability inclusion, social good, human rights and accessible technology, the campaigns that caught my attention were the ones that included persons with disabilities in meaningful way. My favorite is probably the Microsoft 2014 Super Bowl commercial. I also loved these others by Nordstrom and Guinness about the power of the human spirit.
PA.O: What excites you about the future? What are you looking forward to?
Debra Ruh: Everything coming together for the good of all. Not just for the rich, the powerful, for one country or another – but the good of mankind. I know that sounds trite but I believe that marketing could help us all evolve as human beings. I am hopeful about the future. I also love that the “new” social media rules allow many more voices to be heard, not just the select few.
PA.O: What precisely are these “new” rules of social media marketing?
Debra Ruh: Honestly, the “new rules” are the “rules” that keep getting re-written very quickly! For example, celebrities and corporations weren’t following their audiences, as if it was an unwritten rule that if you’re Kim Kardashian or HP, you’re so famous, you don’t need to follow your supporters. These rules have changed, as the voices that seem to be the most credible are people that are actually connecting with their followers.
After all, social media is a conversation. If I am listening to and engaging your voice, you should care about mine, too.