Anatomy of an ad: Behind the scenes of Sport England's 'This Girl Can' and its celebration of women
‘I jiggle, therefore I am’. ‘I kick balls – deal with it’. Rarely does an ad align itself to the concerns of real people as assertively as the glorious technicolour of sweating and jiggling in Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ by FCB Inferno. Katie McQuater goes behind the scenes to find out how the idea was crafted.
We all know exercise is good for us, but while images of toned, high-performing athletes may be aesthetically pleasing, they do little to reflect the reality of exercise for ordinary people, let alone motivate us to take it up.
Instead, exercise is messy, it’s sweaty and, yes, it’s hard work. But this is the reality Sport England looked to pay homage to in its new campaign encouraging more women to take part in sports, while also setting itself apart from the glut of preachy advertising haranguing us about healthier, more active lifestyles. It’s an altogether more authentic and inspirational approach.
A celebration of participation was the name of the game in the This Girl Can ad created by FCB Inferno. Instead of putting athletic goddesses on a pedestal, it presents the true experience of ‘real’ women exercising – including everything that entails, from ‘jiggling’ to ‘sweating like a pig’.
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Fear of judgement, Sport England’s research found, was holding women back; while 75 per cent of women aged 14-40 said they would like to take part in sport and exercise, they were put off by a fear of others’ perceptions.
After a couple of rounds of creative development, it became apparent Sport England was looking for scale – an ad that lots of women would see and identify with and a “cinema nudge effect” that would get people talking.
“Things like sweat and Lycra and the kit that you supposedly have to wear to exercise; these were some of the things we found were holding women back,” says Simon Cenamor, copywriter at the agency and part of the creative team leading the campaign, explaining where the idea emerged from.
Once they had established that the ad was going to be a celebration of real, active women, the team at FCB Inferno hit upon the idea of “T-shirt style slogans”, and that each one would represent a different judgement barrier.
“What we really wanted to do was celebrate the women who were already out there smashing through that fear of judgement barrier – and use them as our heroes, as the example to set.”
With that development, the agency knew it didn’t want to create an ad that resembled the sort of glossy high-performance creative produced by Nike or Adidas.
“They’ve done fantastic ads, but the women appearing in them are perfectly performing specimens,” says Cenamor.
“We were after this true representation of the women who are out there doing what they’re doing and not looking like they’re from a Nike ad. At the same time, we still wanted them to appear as heroic and as aspirational as the women who are in those sort of ads.”
And so instead of models and athletes, the women featured in the ad were street cast by casting director Leanne Flinn, while the entrance of director Kim Gehrig of Somesuch brought the concept to life.
“At the start we had this outline of a script, some slogans and an intention – they [Somesuch] just took it and supercharged it,” says Cenamor. “Every single person involved believed in it and there was just this great feeling – it had a bit of song to it.”
Capturing the theme of not-giving-a-damn is Missy Elliott’s ‘Get Ur Freak On’, a track that “just felt right”.
They had a shortlist of a few other tracks, but had that one in mind while the ad was being shot. “It just felt right – even when it got to the editing stage, the editor, Tom Lindsay, was listening to that track and I think it drove the edit. The edit dances to that track. Once we had seen it on there, we just couldn’t imagine anything else.”
Gehrig was keen the women wore their ordinary gym kit with “pops of colour”, says art director Raymond Chan.
“That led to how the spot looked and also filtered down to the photography and how we shot it all.” Another challenge of trying to be the “antithesis of Nike and Adidas”, according to Chan, was finding a typeface that worked on all media for the slogan-driven campaign.
“Immediately we had to discount any sans serif or italicised fonts. We needed something special, because we always thought this campaign was just a little bit different.”
It was a feeling evidently shared by Sport England, for whom it represented six years of work (prior to FCB coming on board).
On seeing the initial concept, chief executive Jennie Price told the agency she wanted to cheer. And when they presented the finished ad, the creative team had arguably the best meeting an agency is ever likely to have – reducing the room of clients to tears.
"It was just such a positive moment when they saw that all the hard work they’d put in had come to fruition in the form of this celebration of women,” remembers Cenamor.
The line ‘This Girl Can’, chosen to live on beyond the broadcast period, has become synonymous with the ad’s burst of energy, and also helped build momentum from the soft launch in October.
As a hashtag it has helped the campaign go viral, with over 8.8m Facebook views and 123,000 shares since its launch on 12 January. At the time of going to press the film had been viewed 6m times on YouTube.
If social engagement can be seen as an indicator of public sentiment, how does the team feel about creating a viral ad?
“We’re sort of blown away by it really,” admits Cenamor, adding that the team were texting each other on the launch night in anticipation of the public reaction.
“The tweets started coming in saying ‘I’m going to go to the gym tomorrow for the first time in two years’ and you think wow, it’s bloody working! That’s a fantastic feeling.”
Creative agency: FCB Inferno
Managing director: Sharon Jiggins
Chief creative officer: Al Young
Creative director: Bryn Attewell
Art director: Raymond Chan
Copywriter: Simon Cenamor
Planning director: Vicki Holgate
Strategist: Nicola Willison
Senior account director: Hollie Loxley
Producer: Ally Mee
Media company: Carat
Production company: Somesuch
Director: Kim Gehrig
Producer: Lee Groombridge
Editor: Tom Lindsay at Trim
Post-production producers: Andrew McLintock and Adam Sergant
Post- production: Framestore
Audio post-production: Wave Sound Studios
Sound design: Soundtree
This feature was first published in the 4 February issue of The Drum.