The first chapter of This Girl Can in 2015 set out to break the mould of how women were portrayed and spoken to in sports advertising, while tackling the significant gender gap in sport and physical activity. It wasn't just a charity initiative, Sport England and FCB Inferno set out to create a brand that was packed with attitude and driven by authenticity.
Five years down the line and This Girl Can is back with another edition which they hope will set the bar higher again. Moving beyond emotional barriers, it urges women to not let period cramps or juggling motherhood get in the way of getting active.
The campaign quickly trended on Twitter shortly after it was revealed yesterday morning (14 January), with #ThisGirlCan flooding the live feeds of Twitter users across the UK in a show of how hotly anticipated the campaign really is. While it's undoubtedly the sign of its effectiveness at getting people talking, it adds to the pressure for the team to deliver each year and set the bar higher for its community of dedicated fans.
Keeping the momentum going
“Once you create a movement, it is not yours alone to control,” admitted Owen Lee, chief creative officer at FCB Inferno on the challenges of ensuring each campaign delivers. “You have to listen carefully to the social conversation, respect it and shape your work accordingly. Almost immediately, the This Girl Can community was hugely active and it spawned much of our creative thinking.”
The first campaign set the bar for how women are authentically portrayed and had measurable effects on the sport habits of women. It was credited with inspiring 2.8 million women to become more active. It also won four Gold Lions.
Building on the previous campaign, This Girl Can returned in 2017, featuring the work of poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou. With this, Sport England wanted to reach a broader age demographic. Its third film took a more light-hearted approach and tried to reach women from lower-income backgrounds.
Sport England’s director of insight, Lisa O’Keefe admitted she does worry about keeping up the momentum, year after year. “The way through it is to stick to the research, so we let ourselves get carried away with the creative angle, that we in the room think is great,” O’Keefe explained. “We go back to the basics and think what is happening to women today and ask why are they finding it difficult to be active.”
Looking back to see forwards
While the latest ad introduced new cast members, the personal stories are woven together by iconic shots from previous campaigns - including the awkward bikini snap and the runner who isn’t afraid to jiggle.
O’Keefe likes that it brings a sense of continuity within the movement, that has stuck to its tried and tested formula - to show the raw and unfiltered reality that exercise is not an exclusive space for toned, athletic buffs who glisten, not sweat.
“There are some iconic moments in each of the ads, so we thought - wouldn’t it be wonderful to celebrate the fifth anniversary by reliving some of the iconic shots, because they are as true today as they were in 2015,” O’Keefe explained. “What struck us was the images from five years ago were as fresh today as they were five years ago.”
O’Keefe said the campaign reminisces on previous This Girl Can's, to reflect where we are in the new decade. “This is 2020. We thought this is a real opportunity to talk about some more subjects and to step into more taboo areas that we thought couldn’t be done in 2015. But we can in 2020,” she divulged.
For how many years This Girl Can will continue to celebrate the unfiltered reality of active women, O’Keefe admitted she “honestly doesn’t know.”
“I do know that we’ve still got a big job to do," she said defiantly. "40% of women are not regularly active.” O'Keefe added, “but I also know that it’s not just about us. The more we can work with brands like Sure, alongside gyms and governing bodies of sport, the more we can change the conversation and the way that women are presented in advertising.”
But she admits that beyond the film, which has become such an integral component of the campaign, the team does “a lot more when it's not on TV.”
Alongside the TV spot, Sport England has teamed up with Sure to open a new fund which will help local communities fund projects that encourage girls to get active. The fund is backed by money from the National Lottery. Local organisations and community centres can bid for grants from between £300 to up to £10,000.
Sport England has also upgraded its website, which features an improved activity finder, where some can find accessible ways of getting active in areas close to them. It is also energized on keeping women active beyond the initial push.