Can’t we just play?
Footballers have all been there, you’re playing a mini game at the end of training and the coach insists on going over and over and over the new defensive drill that they taught you 30 minutes earlier.
Yes, everybody knows it’s important but you can tell from everybody’s faces that you’re all thinking the exact same thing: can’t we just play?
I have this feeling when it comes to advertising for women’s football.
A quick skim through the biggest campaigns for the 2022 Fifa World Cup and it’s absolutely full to the brim with excitement. The greatest creative showed players like Lionel Messi, Jude Bellingham and Serge Gnabry on a Wes Anderson-esque road trip with their unexpected bus driver Stormzy.
Two mad Nike scientists transported us all to The Football Verse for “The goat experiment” to see prime Ronaldinho, circa 2003, take on the modern day Mbappé. Even Phil Foden’s gran got in on the act when she was accidentally sucked up by the wormhole.
And, as if that wasn’t enough entertainment, Fox Sports brought us Jon Hamm as Santa Claus whose holiday planning is all out of whack with a World Cup in December.
There is an argument to suggest that we shouldn’t compare the women’s game with the men’s, but we can certainly take inspiration from the differences of how they are both marketed.
In the past, we’ve seen football ads targeting women that tell women that equality is important. Of course it is, but aren’t we preaching to the choir?
We already know that our Lionesses are inspiring; they overcome hurdles, they’ve got stamina, speed and skill. That’s why they’re the European champions. Surely now’s the time to have fun?
For the men’s game, the focus is on entertainment, football is a spectacle. We follow the storylines, the rivalries and the characters, and advertising for the men’s game reflects that.
Stories are told to entertain and surprise. The players are introduced like characters in a film.
In the Adidas family reunion, Serge Gnabry isn’t standing still with a ball looking blankly at the camera, he’s pulling together an inherently cool outfit to match his style from an automated closet that Cher from Clueless would be proud of.
He oozes personality. It’s fun, scripts are witty and the narratives are playful and surreal. Put that all together and we get a long list of wickedly creative and successful advertising campaigns.
But for marketing in the women’s game, where is all the fun?
Yes, we’ve made great strides and looking at the headlines generated from the Women’s Euros 2022 you can be forgiven for thinking the women’s football world is rosy with headlines like this:
Campaign for women’s football is a rallying cry for equality
Provocative campaign to increase gender equality as Uefa Women’s Euro 2022 kick off
A campaign that tackles gender bias and stereotypes in football
But there is one big problem. The majority of football fans just want to play.
People like football for the same reasons, regardless of sex or gender: it’s 90 beautiful minutes where we give our minds a rest, an escape from a world of politics, pandemics, and yet we arrived at the 2022 Euros and there we were still spotlighting different reasons for why women should love the most popular sport in the world.
With a long drawn-out history (and narrative) of inequality, tension and a “we’re just getting started” mentality, the majority of the ad world is still a way off from creating the spots that fans of the women’s game are really wanting to see.
When women who love football watch an ad for a brand’s latest boot release they aren’t waiting to be given permission to play football, honestly, they don’t care what you think.
They also aren’t necessarily on a crusade to fix equality. They aren’t wanting to position themselves as the plucky underdog who’s steely determination and grit actually makes them stronger than men, put simply, they just want the coolest new boots too.
They want to have fun. The quicker advertising gets up to speed on that, the quicker we can all get on with playing together in a Nike cage at a secret tournament hosted by Eric Cantona.
Viv Bowdler is strategy director at Dark Horses and founder of Injury FC