That there were enough campaigns of a sufficient quality and profile to evaluate in the wake of this, the most attended, most viewed and most invested in Women’s World Cup to date, speaks volumes of the progress that has been made by those involved the women’s game over the last four years.
Despite this analysis generally adopting a similar format to those we have become familiar with in the wake of all major men’s tournaments, what it was that made a good and bad campaign in this World Cup has been wholly different to those that were successful during last summer’s tournament in Russia.
There is a lens of context through which every agency or sponsor has to view women’s sport. A context knitted into the sport’s very essence borne from years of prejudice, of lip-service, of patronising, tokenistic behaviour and even of legislation . This context is crucial not only because the wounds from the aspects supposedly consigned to history are still raw but – rather depressingly, as we have seen from a number of headlines, reactions and tweets – so much of it still exists.
The best campaigns to have come from the World Cup didn’t ignore or avoid this backdrop, but opted actively to incorporate and embrace it. They had a purposeful, empowering tone which, when combined with a heady air of activism, meant they resonated strongly with an audience, almost all of whom is willing the women’s game to flourish and capitalise on its current vein of success. On a global scale, Nike (with both its Dream with Us and Dream Further campaigns) adopted this approach particularly successfully. The bastion of content marketing released two fantastic video pieces, which conveyed the passion and the aspiration that exists in the women’s game. Domestically, Optus in Australia and Commerzbank in Germany have also released creative spots, highlighting the aforementioned historical context in very different but equally brilliant ways.
The campaigns which fell flat, were those which evidently didn’t. Whereas in last summer’s men’s World Cup where brands like Paddy Power, IKEA and British Airways were rewarded for their clever hijacking, this summer, those which looked to ride the wave of interest in women’s football weren’t. Rather than being an effective way of sticking it to the big, bureaucratic, FIFA-shaped man, hi-jacking proceedings in France felt in poor taste – precisely because of brands’ lack of involvement in previous tournaments. Several brands looked to capitalise on either the Lionesses’ or women’s football as a whole’s moment in the spotlight, having had no involvement in the sport or team before, nor any suggestion that they planned financially to support it in the future.
Companies who spurned the opportunity to use the players in their campaigns also missed a trick. Most notably, some brands opted to enlist the help of more immediately recognisable faces, where the obstacles to equal recognition are less high, to give their campaigns a familiarity.
While it may be tempting to front-up campaigns with faces that are immediately identifiable to the majority of consumers, brands seeking sustained success in the women’s game should endeavour to make players – and even managers – their campaign’s protagonists. The statement of support which such a move would indicate, resonate well with young fans looking for female players to idolise (an opportunity which previous generations of aspiring female footballers majorly lacked). This reasoning, combined with fact that ‘the modern fan’, more than ever, idolises and ‘supports’ players, rather than entire teams means that player-centric campaigns in this World Cup will resonate more than they did in the past.
What’s more, making household names of the players is unquestionably in the interest of brands after long-term success from their involvement in the women’s game, rather than looking to make a quick, value-for-money, buck from it. Putting these players on billboards, selecting them to head up campaigns or having them present at activations will only serve to help this process.
Head and Shoulders have adopted this mindset particularly well. The company’s decision not only to use players as the protagonists for its endearing content series, but to make the campaign’s main aim to reveal more about them and their backstories, will only help the brand to ingratiate the players with viewers, and set them up for long-term success. Lucozade also adopted a player-first approach with its first forays into women’s football – both with its spoken word adaptation of Baddiel and Skinner’s Three Lions and – more explicitly – its specially designed bottles.
But successful involvements in this year’s World Cup, have not only come in the form of slick well-produced creatives. Adidas and Visa have both made bold commitments to the women’s game, which have earned considerable amounts of media, and kudos from viewers. While Adidas’ decision – as the kit partner of FIFA – not to release a major ad spot for the World Cup is, in my view, an opportunity spurned both for them and for the health of the game, its choice to pay women’s World Cup winners equal bonuses to those it gave the men, was certainly laudable.
Similarly, Visa pledged to spend the same amount on the women’s world cup as it did on the men’s – a commitment made all the more impressive when one considers its campaign in 2018 was spearheaded by the not-exactly-cheap Zlatan Ibrahimovic. This commitment, in conjunction with the company’s new ‘Team Visa’ roster of star players like Nikita Parris and Lucy Bronze – shows a brand willing to commit to the game’s long-term health, and earn its involvement in it.
As is the case with the companies opting to champion players, the sentiment behind such bold, principled financial commitment is steeped in a commendable long-termism. One that will help ensure the sustainable growth of the sport, and which – through such growth – will consequentially deliver hard-earned, and well-deserved benefits.
It would be wrong to say that campaigns over the course of this Women’s World Cup have had to adhere to one specific formula to be successful. They could – as Head and Shoulders proved – have been entertaining, just as they could have been empowering; they could have been commitments – like those made by Visa, as well as creatives.
The one thread that was evident through this diverse range of successful campaigns however, was an ongoing pledge – be it explicit or implied – to the women’s game. Rather than looking at this Women’s World Cup as an opportunity to exploit a sport that has managed to thrust itself into the limelight, the success stories at France 2019 were those that suggest they will continue to be told beyond Sunday’s final. The brands who used the tournament to demonstrate their desire to be a full-time supporter of women’s football will be the ones to have earned the right to be there come next summer’s Olympics, or 2023’s World.
Ali Lyon, Sports & Entertainment
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October 12, 2021