In a world of instant gratification, one-click ordering, and next day delivery, it’s not often that consumers find themselves caught up in an advertising campaign that really makes them feel something. Indeed, ever increasing numbers are browsing the web with the addition of Ad blockers, or watching on-demand television via various devices, rather than on increasingly advert-filled television. So a viral marketing campaign, which grabs the attention and hearts of consumers, forms dedicated communities and encourages health, happiness and wellbeing, might have sounded like a laughable pipe dream. But two years ago, one disruptive force did just that. This Girl Can, Sport England’s movement to encourage women of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to get involved with sport, has stood out as a shining example of the kind of viral campaign many marketers aspire to. Figaro Digital spoke to Kate Dale, Head of Brand and Digital Strategy for Sport England, about the campaign’s continuing resonance, and how brands, regardless of size or resource, can win success through valuable emotional connections.
It has been two years since This Girl Can caught the nation’s attention with its honest, unflinching tribute to women in sport. With a clear message of inclusion, the campaign brought together individual stories, challenges and triumphs, with the aim of increasing the participation of women in sport and activeness across the country. This year, Sport England has released a second video, continuing to tell the stories of women stepping up to make a difference to their lives. So how has the message of the campaign evolved during that time, and what has kept it so fresh? “When we came back to make the second film this year there were some practical things we were changing,” says Dale. “We’ve expanded our age range, now including women over 60, and this made us think about the messaging behind it.” Part of This Girl Can’s magnetic appeal is its inclusivity, celebrating a community through the successes of its individuals. “One of the things we’ve learned is the need or messaging and imagery to be ever-present, to really help women maintain their confidence levels.” Making sure that the campaign was relevant to the current affairs of the day was also vital.
The Context Of The Moment
The second film was originally set to be launched on the same day as the US presidential inauguration. “We didn’t feel we’d have got the response we needed and wanted on that day!” continues Dale. “I think we are in a more knowing time than we were two or three years ago, we’ve had so much social and political change during that time, that it feels like a very different context to the first film.” Contextualising the consumer’s experience is a recurring theme in marketing at the moment, and Dale notes that these aspirational, emotionally satisfying campaigns are becoming more prevalent in the consumer’s sightline. “We have seen a lot of films and ads over the last three years where we’ve thought ‘that has a little bit of us in it’ or, ‘we must have been on the mood board when that one went to pitch’. We can see how it has inspired creativity in other work which is absolutely fantastic. I think what we’re seeing is more advertising which is about celebrating who you are – rather than trying to make us feel bad for what we’re not.”
The Starting Blocks
The disruption of the campaign caught the consumer’s attention, due to its impact and boldness. Bringing fans and advocates of the campaign together saw engagement rates skyrocket, and a key feature enabling this impact was the large amount of research carried out by Sport England ahead of This Girl Can’s launch. “We started off with about six months of looking at all the insight and the data we had, to see what else is out there, and listening to new research as well to really understand our audience, our target market and see what they needed,” explains Dale. Building upon these insights allowed This Girl Can to engage with its audience at all points across the creative process, resulting in a campaign with its intended audience at the heart.
“Three or four months before the main campaign went live we spent a lot of time talking to people in our industry to get them to share and advocate for us online, and on social media. We also used social listening tools to build up a community of women who understood what we were trying to do, before they had even heard of This Girl Can, so we really built up a ‘cavalry’ of those ambassadors. When we did launch, we expected that the campaign would get lots of trolls; but this turned out not to be the case, because we were using real women, not a stereotyped image of what women are supposed to look like.”
Content With Soul
A look at This Girl Can’s website, Twitter feed or YouTube page will show a host of added value content, from fitness tutorials, introductions to unusual sports, to individual, user-submitted stories and tips. This Girl Can is unique in its offering. It has nothing to sell, no agenda to press, except inspiration, which lends itself to this vibrant mass of content. Marketers are constantly looking to add value to the user experience, and it’s clear that This Girl Can has a lot of lessons to offer in this regard. “People always talk about the importance of being audience led, but I think it’s very easy to get confused about what you think you know about your users,” says Dale. “When you don’t have shareholders and stock to sell, you’re thinking more about the relationship and where you’re adding value. So what we didn’t do on social was to tell our audience about this girl or another, and aggressively push it. We had conversations; we tried to talk peer to peer with them, rather than just broadcasting.”
Planning Your Success
The virality of the campaign has seen it continue under its own steam, through all of the content that continues to be submitted over Twitter and Instagram. The website is packed with real human experiences, emotions and triumphs, as women continue to connect with the campaign’s message and purpose. As a non-profit organisation, that powerful User-Generated Content (UGC) has proven invaluable for enabling the campaign’s continued resonance. “It’s so important. It’s impossible for us to keep going out and doing new photography, so we need UGC to keep it fresh, alive and resonating.” And the inclusive message of the campaign has seen its reach travel beyond sport, continuing to foster a sense of community across the nation. “It’s incredible to reflect on the fact that our hashtag #ThisGirlCan has become part of the Zeitgeist. People use it automatically now, even if they’re not referring to anything we’ve done. We see a lot of people using it to get girls into STEM subjects and that kind of thing, and using it as a bit of a rallying cry.” Despite this, it’s important to remember that the outside influences on a campaign are the real decider of whether or not an article will go viral, and while most of these will be outside of a brand’s control, it’s not an eventuality that’s completely impossible to plan for. “I don’t think you can ever plan to go viral, but you can align things in your favour to give yourself a good chance. Obviously having good content is at the centre of that- you’ll never get the response if your content is a bit rubbish!”
It’s Not About The Money
So what advice does Dale have for other non-profits who are attempting to communicate their message with limited budget or resources? “I would say take a step back; think about your audience and the journey you’re trying to take them on. What is going to resonate with them?” Says Dale. How can your brand add something valuable to the everyday life of the consumer, which will allow you to communicate with them on a human level? By putting out a message that resonates and empowers the user, marketers can ensure that the audience are the foremost allies of the campaign, and advocate its message organically, and honestly. “We were actually speaking to the women that were cast in the advert– not because they were cheap or free – but because they speak openly and honestly, and that conversation really is more likely to resonate with others. The closer you can get to properly understanding your audience and the change you’re trying to make, the better, and you don’t need a huge budget to do that.”
To hear more from Kate Dale, join us at the Not-for-Profit Panel at the Figaro Digital Marketing Conference on 20 July, where she will be joined by James Brotherhood, Marketing Director at YMCA, and Alex Betti, Head of Digital & Content at the MS Society, to discuss how charitable organisations can leverage digital marketing tactics to spread their message and connect with the consumer. Read the agenda and buy tickets here!