The opportunities brands missed at the Women's World Cup

What a tournament that was. From wonder goals to VAR controversy to Sam Kerr telling her critics to “suck on that one”, there is no denying it was a great ride.

One that people (eventually) got on board with. After initial worries about empty grounds, attendances blossomed while outside of the stadia, 11.7 million people in the UK tuned in to watch England play USA, 4.7 million watched the final on the BBC and Fifa (claims it) achieved its target of getting 1 billion people to watch across devices.

So why can’t I shake the niggling feeling that brands haven’t made enough of it? Why does it feel like there were a lot of opportunities, like penalties, missed?

Some did it exceptionally well. Lucozade’s re-working of “Three Lions” was patriotic gold, but what you might not know is that the brand has promised 90,000 minutes of free pitch-time for young women at sports centres all over the country. Respect.

Across the pond, LunaBar donated $31,000 to every player on the USA team, ensuring their player bonus matched that of the men’s team. Visa also made big promises about investment prior to the event but its press release didn’t give much detail of how that investment would move the game on, or benefit the players. I certainly haven’t seen much of it.

Research from Kantar of the nine major ads put out to support the tournament also tells a slightly less than positive story for the brands bringing the investment. Overall the results showed that the heavy concentration on an important societal message meant that most of the spots failed to effectively advertise the brand.

I would argue though, that this depends on what your goal is, and what you want to achieve.

The problem with looking at it from a purely effectiveness basis is that its so short term. Advertising and sponsorship around a sporting event with such a societal impact shouldn’t just be about driving sales – it's about driving long-term change.

In fact, according to research we carried out during the tournament, to feel more engaged with the sport going forward (and therefore watch more of it in the future), what consumers actually want is to know more about the players and the narratives behind it. Every good story needs interesting characters. Heroes and villains. Those to cheer and those to jeer. Sports have mass appeal not just because of the action on the pitch, but the storylines off it.

And consumers want brands to lead the way in this. But to do it properly they need to move away from the generic empowerment images and messaging of previous campaigns. There is a new visual rule book ready to be written by brave creative brands.

They also need to be better at bringing the stars into popular culture, whether this be by backing them (creatively and financially) in their social channels or jumping on big happenings in the game and producing reactive campaigns around them.

I’m really not sure why a brand wasn’t putting out a clever reactive campaign around Sam Kerr’s comments. Chupa Chups definitely missed a trick there.

For some reason it feels that many brands were put off getting involved, something I think they’ll be regretting now. But the chance hasn't passed. The wave is still rolling and even if you’re not a main sponsor there are clever ways to not only grow your brand, but be seen as one of the first to help build a fledging sport and change the lives of young women.

Simon Dent is the founder and managing director of Dark Horses

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