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What can brands learn from female footballers

Liverpool x Avon partnership

This year will see the Fifa Women’s World Cup draw more crowds than ever before and finally gain recognition as a global sporting event of note.

As the profile of the event grows, it is not surprising that brands are increasingly aligning themselves to women’s sport. Disney has a three-year partnership with The FA that kicked off with the ‘Dream Big, Princess’ campaign, which shatters stereotypes of being a princess in the modern world. Beauty brand Avon, inspired by the new wave of female role models emerging from the Rio Olympics, signed up to sponsor the Liverpool Ladies FC in 2017. This was the first instance of a female-focused brand becoming a standalone shirt sponsor of a professional woman’s football team. Karen Millen also made a pioneering move by working with British kickboxer Ruqsana Begum on the #WomenWhoCan project. Begum is currently the only Muslim woman to have won a national championship in Muay Thai boxing.

It has not been an easy journey up to this point and there is so much that brands can learn. These five lessons have been inspired by the beautiful game’s greatest female players and will help brand owners to build more meaningful relationships with their audiences:

Get outside of your comfort zone

For the first time, female football teams came into national view during WWI. Lily Parr, a factory worker, grasped this opportunity to do what had not done The English winger is best known for playing for the Dick, Kerr's Ladies team, which was founded in 1917. In her heyday, she drew crowds of more than 53,000 spectators.

From this, a valuable lesson can be learnt, when we play in unfamiliar spaces we can achieve our greatest successes. Lego is one such brand that has never been afraid to experiment. Who would have thought that they would release a $468m hit global movie in 2014.

In fact, the Lego Batman Movie released in 2017 outperformed the last Ben Affleck Batman movie.

Be resilient and don’t give up on your dreams

The critically acclaimed play ‘The Wolves’, by Sarah DeLappe’s, tells the story of a female football team’s perseverance through endless knock backs both on and off the field, they remained motivated by their love for the game. Great brands are also not built in a day. It takes huge amounts of time and energy and are very difficult to get right the first time. Standing firm on what they believe, staying true to their passion and being prepared to fail fast are essential traits for brands today. Rovio was on the brink of bankruptcy when they launched Angry Birds in 2009, despite having previously built 51 games that failed. The game then went on to break the record for the most days as the number one paid iOS app in 2015.

Do what you love and good things will come

Many female footballers have shown incredible resilience, dedication and discipline in achieving their goals. Until 2018, Bristol City striker Ella Rutherford balanced her college course with two jobs to support her football career. For her this was what it took. The most successful brands stay true to why they exist through turbulent times. The 110-year-old Converse brand hit rock bottom in 2001, with losses of $5.4m. They were able to come back from the dead, without compromising the integrity of their iconic shoe, by transforming a basic sneaker into a canvas for rebellious creative expression.

Nice guys win in the end

There are many lessons that can be learnt from 2018’s Best FIFA Woman’s Player and Goodwill Ambassador of UN Women, Marta Vieira da Silva, who has worked tirelessly to promote the game through strong values and integrity. Brands that set an example for their industry, by doing the right thing are going to come out on top. Patagonia’s selflessness has earned the clothing brand a cult following. It has even gone as far as imploring its customers not to buy its products, in an effort to encourage sustainable consumerism. Ironically, its sales increased by 30% as a result of this campaign.

Pave the way for the next generation

Since winning bronze at Rio 2016, Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé has been fighting the rulings of organising bodies around the world that prohibit women from playing in men’s teams. She intends to ensure that future female footballers will have the same opportunities as men. Brands that work to pave the way for the next generation, command incredible respect and growth. Ecosia is a search engine that donates 80% of its profits to supporting tree planting programmes around the world, today with over 7 million active users, they have planted over 52 million trees to date.

Women’s football is here to stay and is going to provide endless opportunities for brands to get involved. But let’s make sure we can learn from the journey that has got us here, and that there is an integrity to the campaigns that leverage women’s football in the future.

Claire Holmes, executive strategy director at Superunion