‘This isn’t a mere badge’: Unilever on its mammoth Fifa Women’s World Cup sponsorship deal
As excitement builds around the tournament’s final between Spain and England on Sunday, Unilever’s chief marketing officer of personal care explains how it’s inspiring billions of women and girls worldwide.
Earlier this year, Unilever announced that its care brands Rexona (also known as Sure and Degree), Dove, Lifebuoy and Lux would be official sponsors of the Fifa Women’s World Cup. The partnership will run until 2027 and will include the Fifa World Cup 2026 and the FifaE Finals. This marks the first time that the international competition has teamed up with personal care brands across women’s, men’s, and esports.
Unilever’s global marketing boss for its personal care division, Samir Singh, says that the FMCG giant is committed to accelerating the growth of the women’s game. “It’s a historic sporting event with 2 billion people watching the tournament. That extensive global reach is the driving force,” he says.
“Together with Fifa, we are on a mission to inspire more girls to play the game and create a more inclusive, diverse world of football. We also feel that there’s a unique opportunity for our brands to connect with a highly engaged audience who are passionate about the game.”
Fifa estimates that 1.5 million people will attend the tournament’s 64 matches. For Unilever, online activations such as content creator partnerships on TikTok and digital versions of top football players on Roblox have been pivotal.
England forward Lauren James is one of the sports stars featured in the immersive experience on the gaming platform, which is a collaboration with deodorant brand Sure. American player Trinity Rodman and Germany’s Melanie Leupolz are the other two ambassadors. Singh adds: “It’s one more way that we make that brand relevant for our consumers who are engaging in multiple ways at any given point. It’s something that we will continue to do.”
Unilever’s retail push and its stadium visuals have ensured the sponsorship campaign is always everywhere. Its brands are in outlets around the world, across all continents and in every major football-playing country. Singh adds that his team has “worked on that very quickly and created a disruptive presence.”
To bring all of this to life, there’s an ‘end-to-end’ team. Samir describes it as being orchestrated on “a war footing” led by a group of marketers that includes innovation, strategy, communication, advertising and sales specialists.
“Many of the people who work on this are dedicated, not just for this tournament, but also for the long-term partnership that we have with Fifa,” he continues. “Some of the people who work on other things tend to get pulled in from time to time, it is an end-to-end thing. People in the company are excited to work on this because it is creative and inspiring.”
Using that culture of creativity has been crucial, says Singh, and is a way to break away from the ‘clutter’ while still staying true to the core of Unilever’s brands.
He adds: “The whole point is that you don’t use sponsorship as something on the outside, as a mere badge, but have it at the core of brands, in innovation, advertising and in the mission. That helps to ensure that people keep coming back to it. For us, the creative that we use is not a one-off that we will just move on with once the tournament is over. It’s a long-term commitment to our mission.”
It’s early days for the partnership; Unilever is four months into the five-year deal but so far, it’s been successful. “One of the biggest measures of success for us is to see millions of more girls playing football. We want to make sports and football a lot more inclusive and accessible so that we can help young girls be more active and confident to continue playing,” says the marketer on Rexona.
“But we also have our business metrics. We are looking at sales numbers at incremental turnover at incremental market share, what happens to brand equity scores. And we have OKRs (objectives and key results) on that. And we measure that by brand and country to see if we are progressing on those.”
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So far, there’s been three key learnings for Singh and his team. A sponsorship like this one with Fifa only works effectively if it is integrated into the core of the brand. Secondly, brands need to try harder at embedding themselves into football culture. “There couldn’t be a better property than this,” he admits. “Use the power of social, the power of AI to make the campaigns disruptive and unmissable.”
Lastly, the marketing boss says that the commitment has to be long-term and make an impact on society, it can’t just be a one-off. “When the Fifa World Cup Women’s tournament ends, we will not walk away from our commitment to women’s football.”