Kate Dale is the head of brand and digital strategy at Sport England and was responsible for leading its phenomenally successful #ThisGirlCan campaign.

Today at our brand new Video Masterclass event, a conference brought to you by Econsultancy and Marketing Week, Kate Dale spoke about the campaign and how it achieved genuine engagement.

Sport England’s campaign soft launched in October 2014, with a prime-time national TV campaign launching in January 2015. 

The response after the broadcast led to the following:

  • More than 25m total campaign views.
  • 10 days after the launch, 11m views across YouTube and Facebook
  • Trended twice at #2 on Twitter and Google Hot trends
  • Attracted more than 223,000 Facebook followers and 62,000 Twitter followers
  • This led to more than 200,000 social interactions

These are the seven lessons that Sport England learnt so far from the campaign... 

Lesson one: insight

The major aim of This Girl Can was to increase the number of women taking part in physical activity. Research revealed that there are consistently 2m more men playing sport than women, yet 7.5m women surveyed want to be physically active.

The conundrum that needed to be addressed was why there was such a massive gender gap, despite the supposed positive influence of the 2012 Olympics and plenty of widely distributed health advice.

In order to gain insight, Sport England did the old fashioned thing and just asked women what their feelings were about sport, and what it is that’s putting them off being physically active.

The responses were wide-ranging, from “not wanting to become muscly” to “not seeming competitive enough” to “to not wanting to be seen in public red-faced and sweaty”. Most of it boiled down to a fear of judgement.

Sport England divided this fear of judgement into three key areas.

  • Appearance: one girl responded saying that she only went running at night so nobody could see her. Not only is this rather sad but also potentially dangerous.
  • Ability: this swung from one extreme to other. Either respondents felt they were too afraid that they weren’t skilled enough, or that if they were good that they would be perceived as being ‘butch’. This speaks to sadly ingrained prejudices about women in sport.
  • Priorities: mothers in particular felt guilty about spending time away from their children for themselves, yet at the same time wanted to appear as a good role model.

Ultimately all of the women interviewed felt alone in their feelings about physical activity, and of course the reality of the situation wasn’t like that at all. This led to Sport England developing a manifesto, which would drive the core creative of the campaign…

Women come in all shapes and sizes and have varying abilities. Some are great at sport and some aren’t, but that doesn’t matter. It just matters that you’re a woman and you’re doing something. 

Lesson two: choose your film stars carefully

The campaign doesn’t use any models or actresses. It shows real people engaging in the activities that they would normally do. This involved using street-casting for a wide breadth of women, at various levels of ability. 

The only common trait they needed was to “not give a damn”.

This gave the campaign a real authenticity and integrity that never would have been achieved with models.

Lesson three: plan to be popular, don’t just hope

In the initial few months before the television campaign, Sport England knew it couldn’t just upload a few videos to YouTube and let them sit there. Instead the team talked to key influencers about the campaign and built partnerships with media outlets, sharing with them relevant video content for their respective audiences.

Lesson four: prime your audience

The right people need to know your ad campaign is coming. Before the campaign went national in January, the individual ads had achieved roughly between 250,000 to 750,000 views on YouTube. This was achieved through building audiences in all social channels, and again, making partnerships with media outlets.

During this phase it was also important to use social listening tools to find out what conversations women were having around sport and physical activity. Sport England could then join in on the conversation and congratulate or commiserate with the users based on the sentiment. Engagement and conversation rather than broadcasting a government style health message.

Lesson five: engage key influencers

Working with women like Claire Balding and Caitlin Moran meant finding voices that would speak to the key audience in a way they would want to be spoken to by women they identify with. 

This worked better than using more traditional spokespeople for sporting campaigns, who tend to be traditional athletes and therefore far removed from our everyday experiences and unidentifiable with.

Lesson six: enjoy and share the response

In a surprising development, women starting making their own This Girl Can videos and sending them to Sport England, showing how inspired they were by the campaign.

These were then shared by the campaign team, which helped make a stronger community and strengthen the core message.

Lesson seven: be brave 

It’s a campaign based on changing attitudes, confronting fears and shifting stereotypes, these are difficult metrics to measure and it’s very much about the long-term journey.

Having courage to follow this through to the end and being willing to continue the hard work while the spotlight isn’t necessarily on you are vital components of the campaign. 

For Sport England in particular, this campaign was one far removed from its previous experience, but diving in head-first and being single-minded in its approach has ensured success for the campaign. 

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 25 May, 2015 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Lizzie Nayman, Senior Account Director, Health at Aesop Agency

Fantastic campaign based on such strong insight. (but I am biased, I am a woman who loves sport!!) I auditioned to be past of the campaign and sadly didn't make the cut, but think they've done a really great job. Makes me proud to play netball, and also work in marketing!! #thisgirlcan

over 2 years ago

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Roz Brabner, Ray-Ban.com Manager (Northern Europe) at Luxottica

I really loved this campaign. I thought the mix of different sports was really considerate to the viewer - not everyone is in a position to have a swanky gym membership. Also the Missy Elliot track was the perfect addition.

over 2 years ago

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Kate Dawson, Director at Well Read PR

An inspirational campaign. Would like to know what impact it had on sports participation in schools where teenage girls often drop out of sports.

over 2 years ago

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Abigail Brown, head of health marketing at Cancer Research UK

Inspiring campaign with fantastic reach. Would love to know the impact on physical activity levels especially across different social groups if available. Looking forward to the next campaign!

over 2 years ago

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Lucy Eru, Marketing Manager at Artemis Natural Healthcare

Great insights into the success of this campaign. Will be using this post as a bit of a mantra/plan for my next big campaign. Thanks Christopher!

over 2 years ago

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Simon Poyser, Managing Director at IQ Media

A very effective and inspiring campaign ( even for a man!) using the power of video to both reach and engage the audience, based on a clear insight, having done the research.

over 2 years ago

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Alice Calch, writer at GhostProfessors

Thanks, awesome campaign. I have a similar situation with Lizzie, however, I've read recently one amazing article, you may look at it http://tweakyourbiz.com/marketing/2015/07/28/7-reasons-website-not-working-full-potential/. It has changed my outlook.

over 2 years ago

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