UK Sport, the UK governing agency behind the Olympics and Paralympics, is a great example of an organization working to stamp out misrepresentation in the industry, and democratize entry for young people. To do this successfully, it is essential that they are able to engage under-represented young people through marketing.
When the pandemic struck and social distancing restrictions were put in place, UK Sport had to digitize its recruitment process. The organization feared that this could narrow the access for new sporting talents in an industry that already largely attracted privileged athletes. True was brought on to create a digital campaign and platform to entice young people from all walks of life into a sporting career.
The resulting ‘FromHome2TheGames’ campaign won The Drum’s debut ‘Best Responsible Digital Engagement with Kids’ category, sponsored by SuperAwesome, at The Drum Awards for Digital Industries (DADIs) 2021.
Kate O’Loughlin, chief operating officer at SuperAwesome, caught up with Nick Horne, creative director and David Jones, senior strategist at True to discuss the campaign, the importance of diversity and how to make the internet safer for young people.
UK Sport analyzes and iterates its recruitment process for future athletes every few years to ensure it remains relevant. But in 2021, when traditional recruitment processes changed from in-person to online, even further reforms were needed.
Horne explains: “UK Sport normally do a roadshow as part of their recruitment campaign, touring different university campuses and schools to hold live recruitment rounds. But with everything that's happened, they had to revise how they were going to do that.”
True was tasked with creating a digital platform that would recruit new types of young talent to the industry “that wouldn’t normally see them themselves as potential Olympians, Paralympians or people who might see barriers to applying usually.”
“At SuperAwesome, we think it’s super important to be recognizing this kind of creativity as we’re on a mission to make the internet safer for young audiences,” comments O’Loughlin.
After conducting research into how young people viewed sporting opportunities in the UK, True identified that many youngsters deemed Olympic and Paralympic sports expensive to get into, which explained why the organization was having trouble recruiting people from poverty-stricken areas.
Horne says: “Most sporting bodies and brands tend to hero worship sport stars. But that creates a barrier to younger audiences who then view those people as unattainable superstars. From a creative standpoint, we need to make sport stars seem real and share their journeys so that young people can draw parallels with their own.” An important feat when many would have spent much of the year locked up indoors.
Reaching young audiences
Many brands and agencies shy away from talking directly to youth, because of complexities around data privacy laws and not knowing how to address young people in an ethical way.
The True team used sports stars as the campaign’s influencers so that young watchers could find out first-hand what it took for them to get to where they are today. Ambassadors were selected for their personality, relatability and as a way to answer real world questions around entry - to alleviate doubt around the process and encourage others to follow in their footsteps.
“Hearing a top sports star urge young people to apply for something is different to hearing your mum encouraging you to do it,” says Jones. “If we could get that message from them directly to the young people, we felt it would increase our chances of getting them to sign up and agree to take part in what could be a really life changing opportunity.”
“Thinking about the way the journey flowed from the media and advertising, upfront we put a lot of emphasis on the content that went alongside it that our young athletes could engage with,” he adds.
“There was a big route through ads focused on parents, guardians or teachers but we’d always have something for the young athletes and children then they come through to the site. And even though we might not be targeting children explicitly, with a lot of our media upfront, we’d always have something for them later in the journey when they come through to sign up.”
Since the campaign targeted children, an awareness of the necessary data and security measures was key. It was important to offer parental-guided applications, so that information on the parents was collected while also providing the opportunity for the parents to be involved in their application process.
“Transparency is really important when talking to young people; the journey around applications had to be useful and informative,” says Horne. “We had to make sure that there was always content available for children to understand what they’re being asked with regards to where their data is going. As an industry generally, we've maybe failed on the transparency front. We have to better understand our users and work on building that trust with younger people through marketing.”
‘FromHome2TheGames’ campaign was a success and received an 80% uplift in applications from under 16s in 2020, particularly from low-income areas in the UK. The main aim of the campaign was to get a new type of youngster to register their application, one who had not previously been engaged with UK Sport.
“Elite sports don't need to be elitist,” adds Jones. “Our approach and targeted efforts ensured that we reached new audiences that didn’t previously have much chance of getting into the industry. We were really happy when we saw the campaign figures come in and saw the transition from real life to digital recruitment work.”
Horne reflects and concludes: “Despite our initial reservations, it's not that hard to engage young people properly. There's platforms out there to make it work and as long as you consider the needs of the youth audience and give them the desired respect, trust and transparency, it’s possible to engage them.”
SuperAwesome is making the internet safer for young audiences. The company’s technology enables safe, compliant digital engagement with kids and Young Teens around the world. SuperAwesome is used by hundreds of brands and thousands of developers to enable over 12.5bn kid-safe transactions every month. Founded in 2013, the company was acquired by Epic Games in 2020.
For more learnings on the ‘FromHome2TheGames’ campaign and takeaways on how to engage young audiences in a responsible digital manner, watch the full video interview above.