Trends & Features

Fiona Bugler reports on the success of Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign

This Girl Can is a government funded campaign launched in January 2015 by Sport England, with a goal to get more women participating in sport. Publicised online and on TV, it uses strong images of ordinary women between the ages of 14 and 40 getting hot and sweaty running, boxing, swimming and taking part in energy packed classes such as Zumba.

The initiative is gritty, real and funny and features clever tag lines such as ‘I kick balls, deal with it’, ‘Sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox’ and ‘Damn yes, I’m hot’ – and in its first year was viewed by around 37 million people online.

Pre TGC, British women were in a sorry state when it came to sport. Figures showed that a nation already labelled ‘the fat man of Europe’ could also have claimed the ‘lazy woman’ crown when it came to sports participation.

What was holding women back?

Sport England wanted to understand why women weren’t getting involved. The organisation’s findings revealed the key factors to be a fear of being judged and a feeling of intimidation.

45 year-old Maria Stewart, who is a mother of two children under the age of six, has been a member of her local running club for many years, but she recognises it’s sometimes hard to attract new members, echoing Sport England’s findings.

Stewart says: “I still hear some women say they’re afraid of joining a running club, as they feel it’s full of fast runners and they wouldn’t accept someone who is slower, even though you try and convince them otherwise.”

Jo Cotgrove, director of the Women’s Sport Network, a voluntary body whose aim is to get more women involved in sport, highlights the fact that other research suggests women prefer to be coaxed not coached, adding: “Being with friends and being active when you can fit it around other daily responsibilities really helps.”

The success
Like Gok Wan’s inspirational TV fashion show How to Look Good Naked and beauty brand Dove’s ‘real women’ advertising, TGC aligned itself with empowerment and signed up a top advertising agency, FCB Inferno – which has won 45 industry awards since launching the campaign – to get the message out.

In January this year independent researchers (see panel) confirmed that 2.8 million 14-40-year-old women who recognised the TGC campaign reported having had a go at some or more activity as a result of it, while 1.6 million said they had started exercising.

The findings came a month after Sport England’s Active People Survey, which found 148,700 more women were active for at least 30 minutes once a week, every week in the 12 months to September 2015, compared to the 12 months to March 2015.

The Women’s Sports Network responded enthusiastically to the demand generated by TGC by creating ACTIVEMapX, a free service that publishes and maps fitness opportunities offered by a wide variety of clubs, commercial organisations, small businesses and charities by postcode.

During the three-week launch of TGC, the number of activities on ACTIVEMapX increased from 20,000 to 28,000, while locations advertising female friendly classes grew from 13,750 to 22,960. Daily user searches exceeded 5,000 and this figure is still rising.

Other national governing bodies are on board, including England Athletics, which stated it’s encouraging clubs to get involved and consider how they can create more opportunities for more women to take part in the sport.

Commercially, Marks & Spencer has partnered with Sport England and is selling TGC T-shirts in its stores.

What’s become known as femvertising works. The phrase – with associated hashtag #femvertising – was coined by SheKnows, an award winning women’s lifestyle media company, which defines the term as advertising that employs pro-female talent, messages and imagery to empower women and girls.

In 2014 SheKnows conducted a survey of 628 women. 43 per cent said female empowerment adverts made them feel good about supporting a brand. Additionally, 45 per cent admitted to sharing a pro-female advert and 46 per cent stated they’d begun following a company on social media as a result of such an advert. A further 75 per cent said they like adverts featuring real women.

Big brands are responding. In the broadest terms of retail, women are big spenders – according to marketing website Sheconomy, 85 per cent of all brand purchases are made by women.

During this year’s Super Bowl in America, ‘strong’ women were featured for the first time in a series of adverts, including Dame Helen Mirren publicising Budweiser and tennis powerhouse Serena Williams and footballer Abby Wambach appearing in an advert for the new Mini Clubman called Defy Labels, reflecting the trend for campaigning adverts that tell a story.

In sport, Droga5 brought us Under Armour’s I Will What I Want campaign. The advertising agency says it was tasked with: “Creating an empowering and beautiful space for Under Armour women’s brand to grow.” It also said it speaks to women who: “Do not wait for permission, advice or affirmation from others in order to go after what they want,” featuring: “Fierce female athletes” who used their will: “To tune out society’s standards”.

What still needs to be done?
The wider picture for sport is mixed. With 1.73 million fewer women playing sport than men, Sport England concedes there’s plenty of work still to be done.

And at the top level it appears old views still prevail. An example of this was Novak Djokovic’s recent suggestion that male tennis players should earn more than women, as they attract more spectators and TV viewers, for which he later apologised.

“This kind of thing can seem like a step backwards,” BBC Sports presenter and world class triathlete Annie Emmerson says. “But the tide is turning and women in a huge variety of sports are proving they are capable of producing the same level of entertainment as men.”

“It all comes back to grass roots. Talent needs to be nurtured. In triathlon clubs, we see a big dropout at 16 for girls, meaning we lose the potential to develop great athletes at elite level, as well as at the recreational level.”

The Women’s Sport Network points out that the rise of local low impact classes such as Breeze cycling, Back to Netball, Go Fence, Get Into Golf and the success of companies such as Curves, Ladyzone and Zumba indicate the momentum is gathering. It seems this girl can – and she is.

In numbers
• This Girl Can films have been viewed 37 million times on the campaign’s YouTube and Facebook channels alone.

• 540,000 women and girls have joined the This Girl Can social media community.

• There has been 660,000 tweets using #ThisGirlCan.

• The campaign has been talked about on social media every day since it launched on 12 January 2015, including Christmas and New Year’s Day.

• The campaign has been talked about in over 110 countries around the world.

Source: TNS BRMB research released one year after the launch of This Girl Can.

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