The build-up to the Women’s World Cup is well and truly underway.
After a stalled, protracted battle over TV rights was finally resolved last month when BBC and ITV confirmed they would be showing the tournament, brands have finally started throwing their advertising spend behind the showpiece event for women’s football, which begins on 20 July.
It’s safe to say there has been a flurry of activity, necessitated by the short lead time most brands have had to work with. But after over 17 million people tuned into the Euros final in the summer of 2022, a watershed moment for the game and women’s sport in general, it’s little surprise that brands want to tie themselves to a genuine societal shift.
“It feels like there’s real excitement from brands,” ITV CMO Jane Stiller told Marketing Week earlier this week. “Everyone always wants longer for everything, but I don’t think it’s limited the creativity or the interest.”
‘From belonging to thriving’: Euros win sparks surging audiences for women’s sportResearch from the Women’s Sport Trust following the Euros showed 46% of new viewers to women’s sport have gone on to watch women’s cricket, with a further 46% continuing to watch women’s football. Of the 15.8 million viewers who had never watched women’s sport prior to the Euros, 16% were under 35 and 47% female. It’s an exciting, new audience for brands to be targeting.
But for all the excitement, it’s reasonable to level some criticism at brands for the delayed response to the competition. Marketing Week columnist Helen James highlighted the “chicken and egg” situation that developed around the tournament, with brands claiming the lack of confirmed media coverage made justifying ad spend difficult, while broadcasters said rights were too expensive without confirmed money from advertisers.
She concluded: “In a situation like this, someone has to make the first move. Brands should lead the charge and get ahead of those who lag behind in putting money behind women’s sport.”
It’s all kicking off
Unilever was one of the first major companies to throw its weight behind the competition. It announced back in May that its personal care brands (including Dove, Lux, Lifebuoy and Sure) would be official sponsors of the World Cup. It is the first time that a range of personal care products have sponsored a World Cup in either the men or women’s game – and a sign of the different opportunities open to brands in women’s football that they perhaps don’t feel are available in men’s football.
Part of its sponsorship is a collaboration between Unilever and Fifa on its Women’s Development Programme, which promotes the growth of women and girl’s football around the globe. Unilever will also hand out 80,000 gift packs at Fifa events over the next few years.
Brands, give women a sporting chanceIt’s telling, too, that female beauty brand Venus has also invested in tying its brand to women’s football, partnering with England’s Lotte Wubben-Moy for an extension of its #MoveYourSkin campaign with an advert set to air during one of the opening fixtures of the tournament.
But if Unilever and Venus represent the new faces of brands getting involved with football, then Budweiser shows that traditional football advertisers are following the development of the women’s game with keen eyes too. Budweiser, to its credit, has been the ‘Official Beer of England’ since 2019 – just as the popularity of women’s football was growing but yet to truly explode – and it has thrown its weight into its latest campaign featuring Beth Mead and football legend Karen Carney.
Budweiser describes this as ‘the biggest trade campaign’ it has ever launched and will feature the usual combination of a 30-second TV spot along with OOH activations, in conjunction with joining forces with major retailers like Asda and Tesco. The partnership with Asda will see it sell branded bucket hats while 50p from every pack of 15x300ml bottles sold in Tesco will go to developing football through The FA.
Women’s sport enters ‘new era’ after Lionesses’ historic winOne of the accepted viewpoints around why it took so long for TV rights deals to be agreed for the tournament was that the early-morning kick-off times would put off brands. Some, though, are using the early starts to their advantage. Breakfast cereal brand Weetabix has invested £2.2m into its TV campaigns for the tournament, hoping to capitalise on the morning viewers to remind them to start the day with a bowl of cereal.
In addition, Weetabix is investing in on-pack promotion, giving away an official home nations shirt every 90 minutes and thousands of footballs. Its OOH activation sees it partnering with Boxpark Wembley (the scene of multiple tossed beers at past tournaments) to produce a special branded breakfast takeover of the location for England’s first stage matches. Flying milk bottles anyone?
There are sure to be dozens more campaigns announced and launched in the coming weeks but one thing is for sure: brands involvement in women’s sport doesn’t seem to be a passing phase.