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Marketing Awards Case Studies Social Purpose Case Studies

Rethink on delivering Decathlon's sports for all ethos

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By The Drum | Editorial

December 4, 2023 | 6 min read

Sports retailer Decathlon staunchly believes that sport is for everyone and to push that ethos even harder worked with Rethink to break down the ultimate barrier to playing sports - disabilities. Together they painted a very different picture of disabled sportspeople and also picked up the Integrated Campaign and Out Of Home awards at The Drum Awards for Social Purpose. Here is the award-winning case study.

Example of the campaign work

Decathlon is the largest sports retailer in the world. And since its inception in 1976, the brand's purpose has been to make the benefits of sports accessible to everyone. This proposition is a compelling one in a category that tends to glorify performance, self-achievement, and the ‘sweat and blood’ of sports. Decathlon rather aspires to highlight the fun of sports and alleviate the pressure of athletic performance.

Over the years, the brand has built its success through affordable prices, innovative products, passionate employees, and experiential stores. However, despite its iconic status internationally, Decathlon has remained a relatively unknown player in North America, where a legion of legacy sports retailers dominate the landscape. As the brand was about to open its tenth store in Canada in 2021, it wanted to boost its fame locally while making its commitment to the democratization of sport known and renowned to all.

The challenge: breakthrough from a cluttered space, but with a fraction of the share of voice in the category, while steering away from media-heavy brand campaigns, as Decathlon’s culture/DNA always favored grassroots initiatives over ‘advertis-ey’ ones.

STRATEGY

DISABILITIES REMAIN THE ULTIMATE FRONTIER FOR INCLUSIVITY IN SPORTS. To really break through, we needed to find a powerful yet cost-effective idea that reflected our mission to make sports more accessible, while leveraging organic and PR amplification to outperform our media investment. The initiative needed to tap into a strong cultural tension regarding sports accessibility.

And while Décathlon was building its brand new flagship store in Canada, a topic was increasingly making the rounds in the local news cycle: limited accessibility around the city for people with disabilities. In 2019, the United Nations had launched its new Disability Inclusion Strategy to help raise standards and performance on accessibility around the world, and this topic has been propelled to the front stage over the past few years.

Disabilities still remain the ultimate frontier for inclusivity in sports. An overwhelming majority of people with disabilities aren’t active because most installations aren’t adapted, leagues and organizations are harder to find and disabled athletes don’t have much exposure outside of the Paralympic Games. All to show that representation matters.

SHED A NEW LIGHT ON A UNIVERSAL SYMBOL: HIGHLIGHT THE ABILITIES BEYOND THE LIMITATIONS. This highlighted a need directly tied to our brand purpose. We therefore set out to awaken the public consciousness about disabilities and sports, and position Decathlon as a key ally in the practice of sports. For all.

ABILITY SIGNS: USING SPORTS TO CHANGE THE WAY WE LOOK AT PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES. To change the way we look at people with disabilities, we've reimagined the universal accessibility symbol to highlight what they can do rather than what they cannot do. Using Decathlon’s existing signage system and iconic blue brand color, we developed 25 custom symbols representing a variety of wheelchair and non-wheelchair based para-sports, such as tennis, volleyball, hockey and archery. By simply adding sports items and accessories to a universally known icon, we told a completely different story: one that showcases all that people with disabilities can do, not their limitations.

We not only deployed the symbols in Décathlon’s parking lots and in-store signage, but we also created a whole program around it. We promoted our symbols and made them freely available to everyone on our website under the Creative Commons license. We invited all sports organizations (and even our retail competition) to rally around the initiative: provide a more empowering representation of people with disabilities, but also make sure that installations are well adapted for them.

FROM DECATHLON’S PREMISES TO GLOBAL AMPLIFICATION

Launched in October 2021, the ABILITY SIGNS program initially included the following efforts:

Usage of the symbols in Décathlon’s local facilities (signage, parking lot, etc.) in Canada.

A launch video deployed on the brand's social platforms (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter).

A website (abilitysigns.ca) explaining the initiative and proposing free downloads.

A targeted OOH campaign around some stores to give common meaning to the changes to the symbols.

A suite of Giphy stickers to let people alter the accessibility icons virtually on Instagram.

An integration into the company's newsletter, which reaches thousands of brand followers.

A press relations outreach campaign targeting the sports and news media, as well as some influential personalities from the sports world.

Then, over the next few months, we expanded the suite of symbols and continued deploying them around Décathlon’s premises around the world, including its headquarters in France.

RESULTS

A GLOBAL REACH SPARKING A GLOBAL MOVEMENT The campaign was an instant hit, boasting 200M+ organic impressions online, 430% increase in brand mentions and more than 20K icons downloads, becoming the brand’s most shared social campaign ever.

In the ‘real world’, the impact exceeded expectations as well. Ability Signs allowed Décathlon to build bridges and partner up with many accessibility associations and dozens of rec centers and gyms. The initiative was also endorsed by professional sports teams such as Paris St-Germain and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The city of Montréal co-opted the program for some parks signage while the city of Paris used it to create new accessible parking spaces near sport facilities. Amazingly, the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games announced that it would also use the symbols on its premises during the event.

This contributed to an increase in brand awareness, sentiment and sales (11% YOY) for Décathlon in Canada.

But more excitingly, the initiative seemed to spark a movement that kept gaining traction throughout 2022 and early 2023, as Décathlon and its partners continued the roll-out of the symbols in many markets around the world.

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