Sport England shares how it kept women active during the pandemic

By Awards Analyst | The Drum Awards

August 17, 2022 | 7 min read

Sport England and Cyber-Duck won the ‘Travel/Leisure/Tourism/Sports’ category at The Drum Awards for the Digital Industries 2021. Here, the team behind the winning entry reveals the secrets of this successful project...

The challenge

Sport England is a public body that encourages everyone in the UK to become and stay active. Since 2019, Cyber-Duck has been its digital partner.

Cyber-Duck was originally engaged to develop Sport England’s digital strategy and main website. Our user research encouraged it to focus its main platform on B2B; B2C would spin out into standalone brands, just like the incredible This Girl Can (TGC).

Originally launched in January 2015, TGC is Sport England’s nationwide campaign to get women and girls moving. It’s a brilliant initiative that promotes how there’s ‘no right way to get active’ and encourages women of all shapes, sizes, abilities, and backgrounds to get moving in a way that feels fun.

TGC has always had three objectives:

  • Increasing the number of women and girls getting active regularly.

  • Changing how women and girls think and feel about exercising and sport.

  • Changing the opportunities available for women to be active.

At the start of 2020, the challenge was to reignite the conversation, cutting through the (welcome) growth in marketing femvertising to put TGC back on the agenda – giving media new reasons to discuss the issues, creating more material for supporters to share, and connecting with women and girls who still didn’t feel that sport and physical activity were for them.

The strategy

TGC turned five in January 2020 with a new campaign to stimulate taboo-busting conversations that helped more women manage their own barriers to getting active. Sport England continued sharing stories of active women from all backgrounds and gave TGC new energy by reflecting women’s realities more closely than ever before.

Motherhood, menopause, and menstruation were all featured – and Sport England showed the first ever tampon string in an ad that wasn’t for a period product to tackle the challenges women faced when getting active during their period.

Sport England celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8 with Parkrun, persuading 10,000 extra women to take part. And then Covid-19 hit. The campaign pivoted, with fresh creativity, more voices, and celebrity support, to help women get or stay active despite being hit hard by the pandemic’s restrictions.

The campaign

2020 kicked off with a high-profile January launch event, hosted by Claire Balding, that introduced ‘Me Again’ as a rallying cry for all women. It mixed original and new footage with a confident soundtrack by Little Simz.

It reminded women the campaign had always had their back while tackling new taboos including motherhood, menstruation, and menopause. The inclusion of a visible tampon string as a woman got ready for yoga, for example, responded to research showing period shame dissuades many women and girls from getting active while they are menstruating even though exercise can alleviate the cramps, mood swings, and other symptoms.

Paid, earned and organic media worked together ensuring women couldn’t miss the ad in the first few months of the year. Alongside our ongoing Sure partnership, this led to the International Women’s Day celebration with Parkrun on March 7, with specific marketing assets highlighting the barriers often preventing less-active women from attending.

Our research revealed that unrelatable fitness images on social media had a negative impact on women and girls. PR worked alongside advertising to reignite the conversation around the fear of judgment for the launch.

TGC already had a popular website with the ‘Feel Inspired’ page. But there was a long list of activities, which was easily overwhelming for users. Sport England wanted to explore how to create an Activity Finder with us; existing competitors all looked very similar. This Girl Can leverage its inclusive vision to help women filter/find what’s best for them.

It shared its strong user/market research into the five stages of women’s behavioral groups: the precontemplation; contemplation; preparation; motivation; and action. We considered how our work fitted with its existing UX and tone of voice at all stages.

We iterated prototypes rapidly, moving from sketches into functional design. The idea was to create a unique customized experience, where This Girl Can could feel like a friend recommending the best activities for each user. We conducted two rounds of usability testing that ensured it was easy to explore the best activities near them. With user recruitment, we ensured we spoke to a broad set of users that hit specific diversity criteria.

Pivoting in response to Covid-19, the TGC social community became a place for women to share their experiences and support each other during the pandemic. Sport England launched an updated ad highlighting the stories of four women who found ways to be active despite the restrictions.

Working with the sports sector and commercial partners, we helped TGC reach women the campaign wouldn’t have been able to on its own. The launch of a £10m TGC Community Fund made it easier for smaller, local groups to create their own projects to help women get active.

As part of a renewed paid burst in September-October, we launched Sistagram, partnering new women featured in our updated ad with leading female influencers to share their experiences and encourage conversations around keeping active during the lockdown.

Our brand partnership with Unilever’s deodorant brand Sure took the campaign into stores through a limited edition TGC deodorant, while our emphasis on using everyday images of women getting active was applied to Sure’s TV ads and POS material

The results

January’s launch helped generate 312 pieces of press coverage, including the playing of the ad on The One Show.

It was viewed across social media 1m times in the first 48 hours and #ThisGirlCan trended within the first hour of our launch post, with the highest single-day website traffic since 2015. All before any paid media kicked in.

With the support of paid, we reached 85% of all women in England aged 20-60 across the two bursts, while our Sure partnership reached over half of women aged 16-34.

Two-thirds of women who saw the Sure ads said they made them want to be more active.

The Parkrun saw 10,000 extra women attending Parkrun events. 1,300 were first-timers and they had their highest percentage of female volunteers ever.

2,250 organizations registered as campaign supporters in 2020, growing the network of businesses using TGC resources to reach women to over 16,000.

Fielded at least twice annually with a sample of 1120 women, brand tracking data showed that seven weeks after the launch of ‘Me Again’, three-in-10 women reported getting active as a result of seeing the campaign – a significant increase on any point in previous 12 months.

Although the number of women reporting getting active as a result of the campaign fell later in the year, despite reduced media budgets and the significant impact of Covid-19, the November results still represented an increase in pre-pandemic levels from 2019.

We ended the year with the highest TGC brand awareness ever.

This project was a winner at The Drum Awards for Digital Industries 2021, which are now taking extension requests for 2022 entries. You can also find out which of The Drum's other awards programs are currently open for entry here.

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Established in 2005, Cyber-Duck is a leading digital agency that works with exciting startups and global brands such as Cancer Research Technology, The European Commission and Arsenal FC. As a full service digital agency, Cyber-Duck offers creative, technical and marketing services all under one roof. The company blends an ISO-accredited user-centred design process with lean and agile management principles, drawing on investment in creative R&D.

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