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It’s a way of life: how to write for sports brands

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The Creative Copywriter on writing copy for a global sports brand

I’ve never been particularly sporty.

Sure, if you toss me a basketball I’ll know which way the hoop is. But if you ask me about birdies or to explain the offside rule... you’re better off elsewhere.

So what do I know about writing for sports brands?

Well, when you think about it, modern labels aren’t really about sport. They might still make the kit you need to climb a mountain, run a triathlon or sweat it out in a hot yoga class. But what they’re selling is a lifestyle. A sense of belonging.

And that’s something I can understand. This is why Adidas came to us for copy and content that would push the limits and promote the lifestyle their community craves. But more on that later.

Moving beyond inspiration

Today’s sports brands don’t just inspire us to do something. Instead, their messaging is aspirational:

Wear these shoes, and you’ll be part of a global movement.

Carry our logo, and you’ll feel like a pro-athlete.

Drink this, and you’ll join the tribe of rule-breakers and risk-takers.

At the heart of all these messages is an emotional connection with an identity – a vision for the future and a sense of belonging that binds the reader arm in arm with like-minded souls all over the world.

So while it’s about sport, it’s also not about sport.

It’s no longer enough for brands to serve a function. Today, they also need to serve a purpose.

Power and rhythm: who not what

How does that translate into your copy and content?

To tap into those aspirational messages, sports branding needs to create a powerful vision of where you, the customer, will be. The focus is firmly on the future: of who you’ll become, not what you’ll do. You don’t just wear these shoes to play a game, you wear these shoes to become an athlete.

Carrying your aspirational message with energy and dynamism means brevity. Packing a punch in just a few words.

When we created the campaign for Adidas, we wrote copy that was edgy. Gripping. Inspiring. Bold. Impactful. Provocative. The kind of motivational language that sparks dreams and drives action.

By using energizing, exhilarating words, you’ll get your readers’ pulses racing and hearts pumping. You’ll place them in their own future. Don’t be afraid of repetition, of imperatives, and of keeping it squarely in active voice.

And make sure your tone of voice is immediately recognizable and distinct. Apply this test: if you take the brand name away, can you still tell who’s speaking?

Understand your audience

When you’re selling something based on aspiration, you need to be pretty darn sure you know who you’re talking to. After all, if someone wants to be a rodeo bull rider, a campaign offering peace and zen simply won’t cut it.

For sports brands, the audience’s psychographic profile is as important as their demographic profile. You need to work out how their brain works and what thoughts drive them.

What motivates them to do sport? What does it represent? What role does it play in their lives?

Tap into those underlying drivers, and you’ll be speaking in words your customers will understand emotionally and viscerally.

Buyer interviews are a great way of capturing Voice of Customer data, so you can reflect their own language right back at them. Use storytelling to tap into their goals and pleasure points, and harness values like bravery, strength and togetherness. Use the power of ‘you’ (addressing the reader in the second person) and speak to just one individual so your copy feels like a genuine conversation.

Always lead with benefits

With any product, the most influential copy leads with benefits, not features.

No one knows what ‘4000 individual air pockets’ means to them. But if you talk about injury-reducing, ankle-cushioning air support that means you can spend more time doing what you love, suddenly I’m all ears. You’ve given me a tangible benefit that I want.

Advertising and website copy in particular is read in the blink of an eye. So unless the reader sees something that’s for them, you blink and they’re gone.

Get those benefits upfront so they can’t be missed. Above the fold, and throughout the page, ad, email or newsletter.

Give the people what they want

Finally, inject some science into your content plan and build your strategy around aspirational search terms as well as practical ones. Think ‘how to become an athlete’ as well as ‘how to run faster’ and ‘comfy tennis shoes’.

Build a community around your products that people can join. We’re social animals, so nurture a shared identity with brand ambassadors, interactive engagement and a campaign that invites responses and participation.

For Adidas, we reached out to the global outdoor sports community, forging connections and solidarity (and boosting sales by 14% along the way).

If you speak with power and creative spark to aspirational ideas, your copy and content will be right on the money.

Konrad Sanders, founder, chief executive officer and content strategist at The Creative Copywriter.

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