June and July remain the most emotional months of the year in the soccer world. Teams of athletes will compete in the Women’s World Cup, with this year’s roster boasting the highest participation in the competition’s history.
The World Cup showcases the growing importance of women’s soccer, and it is on course to hit multiple milestones this year. In April, FIFA announced that over 720,000 tickets had been sold, setting a new record for the category.
One reason for this surge in interest in women’s soccer—especially among women—is the feminist movement. It has been continuously gaining ground in all societal spheres, encouraging women to occupy spaces once considered to be solely for men, including soccer.
This empowerment, present both on and off the playing field, presents an excellent opportunity for brands and companies. But, are brands participating in this game themselves, or are they simply leveraging the opportunity to convey their own messages?
Sponsorship Alone is not Enough
The example of soccer shows that communication is an agent of female empowerment. Support from large companies generates visibility and creates public interest, thus attracting media attention and raising general interest in their brand.
But, what do athletes, fans, consumers and even society itself expect of companies? The answer is commitment. Ada Hegerberg, star of the Norwegian team, refused to play on her national team during this year’s World Cup as a form of protest, demanding total gender equality for soccer players. Since her 2017 announcement that she would boycott the World Cup, the NFF (Norwegian Soccer Federation) promised to eliminate gender-based salary differences (amounting to 40 percent), but Hegerberg asserted that this is not just an issue of money, but also of training and professionalism.
Social Responsibility: More Than Activism
Discussions of equality, diversity, gender, race and environmentalism are dominating headlines and impacting all business sectors. In this environment, corporate social responsibility and social license to operate both rely on consistent commitment.
Activism, more than any other corporate strategy, presents an excellent chance to generate engagement, something underexplored in many companies. If executed properly, involvement in activism begets possibilities for long-term customer relations.
However, supporting a cause simply to generate buzz and drive marketing potential is doomed to fail. When taking a stance, it is important to take into account this inherent risk. To avoid this outcome, companies must ensure the actions they take align with their mission statement.
Going in the Right Direction
The Women’s World Cup presents a great opportunity for brands to publicize their efforts to solidify their goals. Listed below are some pioneer initiatives from companies in various sectors, all using the Women’s World Cup as springboard for emphasizing one single purpose: supporting female empowerment with targeted action.
- Adidas: This German company posted a tweet saying if any of its sponsored players win the Women’s World Cup championship, they will receive the same bonus as sponsored athletes playing in the Men’s World Cup in Russia.
- Nike: The brand organized an event in France to showcase new uniforms for the company’s 14 sponsored teams. Recently, the brand also released a touching video called “Dream Further,” ensuring women and girls everywhere know that they, too, can become soccer stars.
- Guaraná Antartica: Recently, the Brazilian brand invited three players to a photo shoot simulating commercial appearances in multiple areas, including beauty, sports products and credit cards, among others. The images were then sold to interested brands, and the money raised was distributed to the players and an NGO for female soccer players.
- VISA: This brand, which sponsors the Women’s World Cup, launched a TV commercial recreating real stories of players’ life-changing experiences, then broadcast this campaign across 33 countries around the globe.
- Twitter: Throughout the Women’s World Cup, the Twitter team will identify the best tweets posted during matches played by teams from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Spain, South Korea, the United States and the United Kingdom. The most popular tweets overall will be awarded the #GoldenTweet.
Brands as Agents of Change
Recently, it has become increasingly clear that discourse alone is not enough. Brands must act. Below are some good practices for brand activism, based on the lessons the Women’s World Cup has taught us.
- Choose your causes. Brands must define their purpose, and, based on that purpose, identify the causes they can strengthen through their support.
- Work together. A company should work to create a value proposal that will allow both the company and cause to evolve through discussion. As part of this, it should allow all parties to define their roles and contributions.
- Remain committed. Any activity that promotes or benefits a cause must commit itself to continuously supporting that cause’s initiatives.