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Sport England shakes body language for This Girl Can’s digital regime

Early reaction to This Girl Can’s sequel would suggest Sport England has another winner on its hands. But rather than bask in the applause, Sport England is hard at work understanding how its messages of empowerment and camaraderie can stretch throughout the year to motivate those people who perhaps weren’t the first time round.

Maya Angelou’s voice over a mix of colourful, empowering images of women “is just the start” says Kate Dale, the lead marketer for the campaign’s sophomore effort. Content planned for the weeks and months ahead is “really going to translate through into more women being more active and importantly how they feel about being active,” she promises stems from a clearer focus on advocacy.

A fear of being judged by others prevented many women from taking up a sport prior to 2014’s campaign. Yes, Nike, Adidas and Under Armour tackled the issue years before but none arguably did it on the scale of This Girl Can. Now, those feelings of fear and embarrassment are more widely discussed and Sport England sees it as a chance to cement how it can be ever present throughout the year, reaching a larger audience.

It’s easier said than done when the #thisgirlcan hashtag has been used “thousands of times a day” since the campaign came off air in June 2015. Such is its popularity that its worst day to date was boxing day that year when it was “only used 1,000 times,” revealed Dale. “We need to sustain the conversation,” she continued. “It needs to go on for more than just a couple of weeks and it needs to beyond the high profile above the line work we do.”

One way this happening is through a “conversational calendar” for different events throughout the year. And as much as it as about planning for moments like International Women's Day later this week, it is just as focused on giving Sport England’s marketers the space to react to personal moments like someone who’s training for a charity race.

Content calendars are nothing new but its role in 2014 was perhaps overshadowed by just how quickly and passionately women engaged with its themes. As strong as This Girl Can’s community is, its expansion over the last two years is largely thanks to the loyalty its creative inspired in people, not its social media strategy. More than 100 million views to date show it would’ve have been easy for Dale and her agencies to stick with it, and yet they felt the community needed to take the spotlight for the second time because the “conversation has changed”.

The first iteration of This Girl Can was all about “appearance”, explains Dale. Yet as it continued, conversations around it shifted to the emotional barriers women face when it comes to exercising, meaning those issues had to be tackled head-on with whatever came next. For every woman out there that thought it was just them who felt guilty when they couldn’t exercise as much as they’d like due to parenthood or embarrassed about donning lycra at 50, Sport England is using social media to show those concerns are shared by women of all ages.

“There are women out there that feel bad about not being as active as they might like, says Mediacom’s Sue Unerman, who planned the campaign. “To get a conversation going that says ‘everyone has a moment like that’ and that ‘everyone worries about being sweaty’ and worries it [exercising] is going to be embarrassing if I put lycra on when I’m older, is to get the real experience out there that says ‘we’re all human’ and all you can do is give it a go”.

But Sport England knows it will take more than just carefully planned social media posts to top the 2.8 million women who it claimed took up more active lifestyles as a direct result of the campaign. From Spotify playlists that target lapsed exercisers with inspirational This Girl Can videos to a Snapchat filter of the campaign’s well-recognised square logo and ‘Can’, Sport England has sought out new ways to create brand advocates at a time when consumers’ views are more influential than ever.

Having Spotify and Snapchat signals Sport England’s bid to recruit young advocates, though that doesn’t mean older women are getting a short shrift. New ads for the campaign feature older women, with taglines such as ‘Girl. Power’ and ‘My alarm clock is set for 6°C’ that they have come up with. Whereas the debut ads honed in on women aged between 14 and 40 - or daughters and their mums - this time round grandmothers are also being targeted and consequently it uses a broader mix of sports.

“It was important that we reflected a wider population and acknowledge the different barriers that come into play,” said Sharon Jiggins, managing director at FCB Inferno, the creative agency behind the campaign. “The fact is that as you get older you can’t do things as nimbly as you could do when you were at school so then you try and do different activities or find a different way of doing things.”

With this year’s campaign moving from standard advertising to what Sport England calls “activism”, advocates are also involved in its outdoor ads. Some 20 user generated executions appear on six sheets featuring women who have created posers of themselves exercising – “this showcases real women exercising in a real way, with the aim of incentivising other women to do the same,” says the organisation.

Big things are expected of the latest This Girl Can from both its creators and the media. The first campaign has been hailed for doing so much to help grow sport in the UK alongside similar efforts from the likes of Adidas and Nike. Mindful of the pressure, Dale and her agencies have expanded how they track the performance of the campaign. Beyond monitoring how many women it encourages to take up sports, a closer eye is on how the strategy is changing attitudes and helping them feel more confident about being active.

“We’re trying to understand how women are feeling, which means when life does get in the way [of them being active], it’s not just about what you did in the last four weeks that they think about, it’s how you feel about it so that if the last four weeks weren’t particularly great for you then you can get back involved. We’ll track that through what we’re doing in all the media to look at what we did there to the impact we have on what women are thinking and doing.”

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