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Marketing Greenwashing Fifa Women’s World Cup

4 years ago Women’s World Cup ads sucked. Now they don’t

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By Matt Readman | Chief strategy officer

July 28, 2023 | 8 min read

Matt Readman, chief strategy officer of Dark Horses, has watched more Women's World Cup ads than you've kicked footballs to see if the quality of the work has improved since 2019. (Spoiler alert. YEAH).

Women's World Cup

A lot’s changed since 2019 (Covid aside).

Four prime ministers. Still crazy.

NFTs and Chat GPT3 didn’t exist.

Phil Neville was the Lionesses coach.

But most of all, four years ago women’s World Cup ads sucked. And now they don’t.

Back in 2019, the advertising around women’s football was dominated by gender empowerment narratives or corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. There was a sea of epic spots designed to use the beautiful game as a tool for promoting a cause. And to make brands feel like they were doing something good.

While it might be hard to see how this is a bad thing, it was actually harming the women’s game more than helping it. By taking the spotlight away from the players and their personal stories or failing to capture the festival feel of a major summer tournament (like the ads for the men’s game do) it was sapping women’s football of all the things that fans actually love. See our Seven Deadly Sins report from last year for more.

Female players were stern-faced and heroically changing the game for future generations, Their male counterparts were frolicking in fun, bombastic ads that made them even bigger superstars. Hardly a fair situation, I’m sure you’d agree.

But this year, the women's ads have shaken the shackles of servitude and gone full-throttle fun. What we are seeing in 2023 is built from the template of how a men’s major tournament would be marketed. But with a refreshing feminine twist.

And that is a very good thing, because people love major tournaments, and they love the advertising around them. If you want to show female athletes true respect, give them the quality advertising they deserve. This crop of World Cup ads does just that.

Nike has gone all out. Four years ago, it focused on a fictional young girl taking on the baton of women’s football.

This time it’s a rip-roaring brand ad, leading to a handful of spin-offs that put their superstar players front and centre.

These ads playfully echo some of Nike’s best-ever ads from the past. From Brazillian star Debhina replicating the famous Joga Bonita airport ad from 1998.

And destroying a shop to Ada Heiderberg taking on an entire stadium in a nod to previous men’s iterations.

This year when Sam Kerr is flipping the game, it’s inspiring all of us, not just a young girl in her bedroom.

To top it all, their ‘Like A Lioness’ England ad is pure style and swagger. These ads are a celebration of superstar power in a fun and exciting way.

Adidas is similar. Lena Oberdorf from Germany, Alessia Russo from England, and Mary Fowler from Australia celebrate the prowess of female athletes giving the woman centre stage, outshining David Beckham and Lionel Messi, who are relegated to the role of supporters.

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Google Pixel, while not amazingly creative, is actually trying to sell stuff, not change the world. It even reassuringly filmed it underneath the Westway, which, as everyone knows, is clearly where all football ads must be filmed

To prove that this is a real celebration of football, we’ve even got the good old summer promotions as Krispy Kreme, Weetabix and even Reality+ and OTZ Sports are all launching giveaways or competitions. Shunned by the creative connoisseurs these may be, but loved by fans, they certainly are.

It’s not all perfect. If you didn’t already know ITV’s broadcast deal was signed very late in the day, you will once you see its ad. And Budweiser seemed to miss the memo about female superstars entirely.

Having done everything in its power to hide the Lionesses from a Lionesses ad in 2019, even calling in half of England’s actors, it still seems incapable of putting a female footballer front and centre as this year, opting for Messi instead. But no men’s tournament had perfect advertising either, and think of it this way, it means 2027 can be even better.

Advertising matters, don’t listen to those who say people hate advertising. People love good ads, particularly sports fans. And seeing the advertising this year, this women’s world cup might just be the first to get the advertising it deserves.

Marketing Greenwashing Fifa Women’s World Cup

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