Brands now play a huge part in pushing for gender equality and in sport, where there’s still a huge gap between the interest, participation and pay for female athletes, it is more important than ever.
Nike has been one of the brands pushing this agenda worldwide but in China, where three out of four female athletes drop out of sports by the time they are 17, there was a need to push this agenda harder. Working with Mindshare China, for International Women’s Day last month, Nike decided to tell the ‘Back to the Beginning’ story of famous athletes, to inspire a new generation.
Matthew Nolan, strategy partner for Mindshare China, explains, “While gender equality has been central to China’s policies for the last 70 years, Nike found that in sports, underlying stereotypes persist that place limits on the development of the female athletes. In fact, nearly 3 out of 4 women drop out of sports by the age of 17. In this campaign and most importantly the ‘Back to the Beginning’ activation, Nike wanted to provocatively communicate the true stories of real athletes who overcame limitations to become the world-class athletes they are today, helping to encourage future generations.”
Nolan explains that while there’s a need to support the cause for female athletes and help them gain more media attention, at a grassroots level, female sports participation is outpacing men by 21%, representing a huge opportunity for a sportswear brand like Nike.
To help the campaign stand out above a myriad of International Women’s Day campaigns, they decided to up the ante on the ‘origin story’ concept and use out-of-home (OOH) media placements to take the stories to the place they actually happened.
For example, Nike took over the building next to Wan Chai Sports Ground where Cecelia Yang broke Hong Kong’s high jump record. Another placement at the Shanghai Library told the story of Shao Ting, who was told she couldn’t both get a PHD and become a basketball star, yet against the odds she did.
According to Nolan, the placement of the stories helped solve a challenge in gaining attention for female athletes that many may not have heard of.
“The only challenge was that the stories and struggles of these celebrated female athletes were little known to female audiences – let alone the Nation – as attention had been focused on the successes of male athletes alone. To build up visibility and relevance for the inspiring stories of these female athletes, Nike looked for a provocative opportunity to start a conversation about who these athletes are and where they came from, specifically the most defining moment each athlete shattered their own glass ceilings. This led to a contextual OOH activation across China that allowed each athletes story to come to light in a unique way while driving a huge amount of organic buzz along the way,” explains Nolan.
“Without hard-selling each athletes story, a contextual OOH campaign allowed Nike to engage audiences on their own turf in a creative, provocative way that drove conversation and curiosity. Additionally, by taking the unique contextual OOH executions to each athlete’s hometown, we were able to bring their personal origin story to life in a way that other mediums could not do. In the execution, Nike was able to go back to specific locations where the hero athletes of the campaign overcame a limitation that was forced on them to become who they are today. In effect, it becomes a motivational challenge to future generations: you can overcome any limitation too,” he added.
The campaign drove more than 90 million comments online on social media channels and was covered by major news outlets across China. However, Nike’s main objective was to increase its female audience engagement, and Mindshare said the campaign drove an increase of 55% compared to historical benchmarks – a sign that the brand’s aim to encourage women athletes to pursue their dreams was achieved.
“An international brand paying tribute to Chinese female athletes in a hyperlocal, provocative and hyper-relevant way was hugely sharable on social, and it caught the attention of local media outlets, helping to spread Nike’s POV and advocate for female athletes’ place in China. What’s more, by taking the time and effort to localize each execution, Nike created hyper-local relevance for athletes all across China,” explains Nolan.
This campaign shows the power of location and context for advertising, particularly OOH, which is one of the mediums currently most hit by the coronavirus epidemic. Many OOH providers around the world are committing to sharing the power of the medium, using its spaces for public service messaging and help for key workers that are on the frontline of the crisis.