Worldwide Paralympic partner Toyota has released a brand new advert as part of their “Start your Impossible” Campaign. Toyota became the first car company to sign up as a worldwide Olympic sponsor in 2015, agreeing to an eight-year deal reportedly worth nearly $1 billion.
The unique “Start Your Impossible” advertising blitz was launched in 2018; at the time, the car company said that the essence of the campaign “reflects the Olympic and Paralympic Spirit of Encouragement, Challenge and Progress”.
Their new ad as part of that long-running publicity campaign features Filipino paralympic superstar Ernie Gawilan. The commercial references Gawilan’s difficult start in life; it mentions that his mother died of Cholera when he was just 5 months old, and that his father then left him. It does not, however, acknowledge the fact that Gawilan is an abortion survivor. The very reason that Ernie Gawilan is a paralympian – and not an olympian – is because he lost both his legs in that attempt on his life while he was still in the womb.
According to Toyota’s press release announcing their campaign in 2018, “’Start Your Impossible” shares Toyota’s evolution by highlighting real-life mobility stories of Olympic and Paralympic athletes as well as everyday athletes who demonstrate the values of humility, hard work and never giving up.’”
“‘The campaign marks Toyota’s long-term commitment to support the creation of a more inclusive and sustainable society in which everyone can challenge their impossible through stories of determination as well as through Toyota technologies. The two creative pillars of the multi-platform global campaign include, “inspiration,” which celebrates the human spirit and product “evidence,” showcasing Toyota’s ideas for innovations that can help people move freely.’”
In Toyota’s most recent ad featuring Gawilan, the company builds on the theme of strength over adversity, continuing to emphasise the virtue of fortitude, with the use of a the renowned Paralympian.
Of course, we automatically want to assume that Toyota is being wholly genuine in their intentions and that they actually, truly do care about the individual person they’ve used in their campaign and the unique, complicated and beautiful story that goes along with that human being. You’d hate to think that the ad was only produced to win PR praise and much-fought-over brand esteem as an Olympic sponsor.
Unfortunately, however, it appears that Toyota decided to leave out – or at best, rather conveniently forget – the hugely significant fact that Ernie Gawilan is an abortion survivor. The fact that he miraculously survived an abortion attempt on his life does not appear to be convenient or useful for Toyota when polishing up their brand image and gaining positive publicity as an Olympics sponsor.
A more authentic telling of Gawilan’s absolutely astonishing life story would not have left that part out. Or were Toyota afraid of a liberal pile-on?
After all, Gawilan has been open about his tumultuous start in life, and the fact he survived an abortion is not something he should be ashamed of – he should be of course, and indeed is – proud of his status as a survivor. He has previously spoken about surviving the abortion attempt and God’s transformative and redemptive role in his life.
His story is one of hope and triumph of the human spirit even in the most adverse of circumstances. By leaving such an elementary element of Gawilan’s story out, Toyota are making an implicit – or perhaps explicit – implication to their audience that the athlete should hide this remarkable part of his own story; that his start in life should not really be mentioned. That doesn’t seem like adhering to their own promise to embrace and celebrate the human person and strength of the human spirit indiscriminately.
It’s a good thing, then, that Gawilan himself is able to fully champion his own story. In a 2014 interview with SPIN.ph, he joked, “I must have been a good swimmer even in my mother’s womb because I survived the abortion. I just swam…I really had a bad trip,” he said. “I used to crawl to walk.”
Speaking in a 2017 short film, Gawilan explained, “I used to hide myself…I used to be ashamed of myself, ashamed of why I was born like this. I felt like I escaped from a shell [when swimming]. There’s a purpose for us in this world. We need to be fighters in life.”
His story truly is a tale of redemption, God’s grace, and incredible bravery in the midst of so much adversity. It’s just a shame that Toyota couldn’t have told his story with more authenticity and honesty, and truly embraced the beauty and uniqueness of every individual, instead of cherry-picking the facts of his story in order to fit a particular agenda. Ernie Gawilan is an abortion survivor who narrowly escaped death himself – his greatest hurdle in life was simply to be born.