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Durable prayer mats united 'Hikers Against Hatred' – here's how

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By The Drum | Editorial

December 7, 2023 | 8 min read

Wiggle, Adidas and The Romans have won the Travel, Leisure and Sport category at The Drum Awards for PR. Here is the award-winning case study.

Check out the award-winning campaign

Wiggle is an online retailer for anyone who loves the great outdoors: runners, cyclists, swimmers, triathletes (obviously) and even hikers. They aren’t JD Sports or Sports Direct. They aren’t even owned by Mike Ashley. In fact, they started out in 1995 as a little shop in Portsmouth and they’ve just steadily grown and grown to become a highly specialised £400M business.

Wiggle is for the people in the know, those that might be slightly geeky about their fitness pastime (translation: talk about literally nothing else). But what Wiggle is definitely not is a closed shop exclusively for ultra marathon runners. It’s a brand that recognises everyone is unique, everyone is exercising with different objectives, and that everyone deserves to be able to achieve their fitness goals.

Our ongoing retained brief: celebrate the athlete in everyone and help them get their Wiggle on, whatever their ability. For example, we previously worked with the brand to position braille throughout the route of the London Marathon to deliver messages of support for the hundred or so blind runners bravely tackling the course.

And so, when a sickening news article appeared about a group of Muslim hikers suffering racist abuse, we saw an opportunity for the brand to reach out in solidarity.

STRATEGY [Trigger warning, racism]. The hikers, members of the Active Inclusion Network, had posted photos online about a great day out walking in the Peak District. The posts were instantly inundated with comments in reply. From suggestions that they weren’t real hikers, to accusations they were only doing it ‘for attention’, through to comparing the walkers to the ‘Serengeti wildebeest migration’. Not to mention dozens and dozens of others that are unwritable and unrepeatable.

First, The Derby Telegraph ran the story. And then the nationals quickly followed. Unbelievably, these articles were then reposted by racists across social media with similarly offensive accompanying commentary.

Our starting point was to sit down with the hikers and hear first hand from them how the experience had made them feel. Of course, they were incredibly hurt by a lot of the language used. But they had also received hundreds of messages of support from across the country broadly along the lines of ‘the countryside is for everyone’ and ‘keep doing what you’re doing’. So that’s exactly what they intended to do.

In fact, Active Inclusion said that, in the wake of the racism they had experienced, they’d like to do much more to draw attention to the fact anyone can enjoy hiking across the UK, regardless of race, religion, colour or anything else.

Us: “Brilliant news. We can 100% help with that. Although… obviously anything we do does run the risk of further trolling and online abuse.” Them: “That’s cool. We’ll be ready for it.”

THE IDEA First, we needed a moment in time. And then we needed an act that would instantly turn into a national conversation around religious inclusivity. When it came to timings, Ramadan felt like the perfect calendar moment for us to help the wider UK better understand Islam and its values. One of the key tenets of the Holy Month is to pray, facing Mecca, five times a day. Which gave us not one, but two ideas.

First, let’s simply place signposts towards Mecca throughout the English countryside. Hikers are very used to seeing little wooden signs pointing them in the direction of travel. This felt like a really heartwarming and celebratory way to take the tropes and visual register of rural England and use them to tell the story of multicultural Britain. Traditionally Muslims would have used the position of the sun to locate the Holy City. However, the rural Peak District isn’t quite Saudi Arabia and sometimes the sun isn’t quite as visible due to cloud cover or pouring rain…

Speaking of rain, nothing ruins a prayer mat like boggy marshland. And so, working with a Muslim-owned studio, QM Design, we designed the world’s first weatherproof prayer mat. The design fused traditional Islamic design alongside the topography of the area where the first incident of racism occurred, taken straight from the Ordnance Survey map.

Manufactured in partnership with Adidas Terrex, the mats went on sale on the Wiggle site, with all proceeds being given to the Active Inclusion Network, alongside a sizeable contribution from Wiggle to help them to continue to encourage greater participation in outdoor activities from diverse groups.

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RESULTS: Now you’re probably thinking.. but surely the announcement of signs pointing to Mecca dotted across the green and pleasant countryside of England must have enraged rural NIMBYists and gammons of the shires. You would be completely right. Talk radio switchboards have never run so hot. But this time, we were prepared. First we went out with our announcement of the signs and the prayer mats. We landed over 100 pieces of top tier coverage. Hypebeast even described it as a “Sports Prayer Mat” which sounded pretty cool.

We were especially pleased to land some really good hits in Muslim focused media, so often overlooked by the PR industry, with British Muslim Magazine being especially effusive in its praise of the campaign, describing it as “revolutionary” and saying “this could not have happened at a better time.” It’s definitely one of our proudest pieces of coverage this year. Every single piece of coverage referenced Adidas and Wiggle. Every single piece of coverage contained a least one hero image. And every single piece of coverage enraged Britain’s racists who duly made racists comments online about the campaign. Which we used to reheat the campaign securing numerous broadcast opportunities for Active Inclusion spokespeople to talk about why British Muslims need support from brands like Wiggle and Adidas more than ever. In doing so, we turned a crisis into an opportunity and used racist comments as a megaphone to share our message of inclusivity and tolerance. It felt really, really good.

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