Blog

21st Century Girls

During Engine’s 21st Century Woman event yesterday, surrounded by a collection of clients and colleagues, listening to a captivating panel of women including Stella Creasy MP and Kate Dale of #ThisGirlCan fame, I found myself reminiscing about bedtime stories with my 4-year-old daughter from the previous evening. No, it wasn’t being on the 6th floor of Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road that got me thinking. I was still very much tuned into the discussion on how women are depicted in marketing and popular culture. But my conscience had been pricked by the realisation that I was part of the problem under the spotlight – in the same way that panellist Harriet Hall (Features Editor of Stylist.co.uk) had caught herself asking ‘What’s her name?’ when a friend said she had found a new cleaner. Do the seemingly innocuous bedtime stories I have been reading to my daughters propagate the very same outdated gender stereotypes that were being laid waste by the panel?

So last night, on the eve of International Women’s Day, I decided to check the bookshelves at home. And there it was: gender stereotyping writ large in oversized text and pretty illustrations of domesticated women and hard-working men. Mums doing household chores. Dads fixing things. A preponderance of male central characters. Even the anthropomorphised animal characters were overwhelmingly male and heroic. It was more proof, as if any were needed, of the antiquated way gender roles are depicted in popular culture.Engine’s 21st Century Woman study had a very particular take on who shares blame and who has the responsibility to improve the situation: the marketing community. The research, compiled over 12 months, with input from 1,000 UK women, had some pretty damning evidence of how brands are failing to accurately portray women through marketing. 76% of women think that brands are not representing them properly, and 40% of women cite advertising and the way brands talk to them as one of the most likely reasons to be self-critical.The research also showed that 86% of women enjoy being a woman (yes, that means 14% don’t) but 45% find it difficult, primarily as a result of institutionalised sexism. Marketing at large is not just failing to address the issue of ‘damaging and dangerous gender stereotyping’ (Harriet Hall), but helping embed it in society. According to Stella Creasy, ‘advertisers are the front line of a cultural war’, and most of them seem to be on the wrong side.

Day job aside, as a father of two 21st Century girls, this is all pretty troubling. Until yesterday, I thought my parental efforts against gender stereotyping had been relatively robust. My wife and I chose a neutral colour for the nursery. My daughters are subjected to a fair amount of ‘male’ sports such as cricket and rugby on TV. The All Blacks are their favourite team (it’s more about the "pre-match dancing" than backing the winning team), and if New Zealand are not playing, the 4-year-old will support whoever is wearing blue. I’ve instituted regular ‘cooking lessons with daddy’, which, I tell myself is to make sure they don’t develop gender associations with domestic roles (although if my wife reads this she’ll probably question why that doesn’t apply to the laundry). And I made sure the girls' first trip to a major sporting event was to see professional über-talented women play, at The SSE Women’s FA Cup Final at Wembley. I’m not expecting the 1-year-old to have identified any female role models, but it is a memory that will be established in the re-telling.

Granted, the nursery paint colour might ever so slightly be influenced by not knowing what sex our firstborn would be, and there is heavy personal agenda in all the above. I love watching sport. After all, it is part of my job (no, my wife doesn’t buy that line either). In a parallel life I would quite like to have been a chef. But if those personal biases give my daughters a less gendered upbringing and avoid fostering unconscious biases in their little brains, I’m comfortable with the egoism at play.

I’m hoping it will all add up to sense that they can do anything with their lives, without pre-conceived, gender-defined paths. At the moment the 4-year-old self-identifies as a Ninja Turtle and wants to be Leonardo (blue bandana) when she grows up, although I’m wondering if it’s a phase (and now wondering why there aren’t any female ninja turtles...I’m sure the Renaissance had some pretty awesome female role models). She likes tennis, ballet (mixed class), dinosaurs, baking, rugby tackling and anything blue (did I mention that already?), so I'm hoping we've avoided too many gender stereotyping clangers.

The panel discussion highlighted so many areas where I can do more in my day-to-day interactions at home. Bedtime stories is one of them. But if I learnt one thing yesterday above all else, it is that my efforts to avoid gender stereotyping in my daughters' upbringing doesn’t stop when I leave the house for work. It is about making sure any clients or brands I work with reject stereotyping through their marketing and advertising, so the depictions my daughters see challenge the status quo. There was so much sense spoken yesterday, but maybe the panel was wrong about one thing – social media isn’t the front line of female oppression. It’s bedtime stories.

The Lomu Effect: How one man changed rugby union

On Wednesday 18th November, as we awoke to the news that All Blacks great Jonah Lomu had passed away, the first tribute I saw posted on Facebook was from my mum. She is not the slightest bit interested in sport yet, such was the impact of the legend of Lomu, had been moved enough to write a post on the great man. I suppose this could be described as the 'Lomu Effect'.I count myself lucky to have crossed paths a number of times with Jonah during his all-too-short life, with my first meeting arising when I was fortunate enough to attend a Hall of Fame dinner in London. Jonah was there in an immaculate suit and had an unmistakable aura, which increased my nervousness as I approached him to request an autograph. I shouldn't have been worried. He was so kind and had so much time for me.

About 15 years later, I came across Jonah again during Rugby World Cup 2015. He was still the warm, friendly guy I had first met as a youngster; a guy who had time for everyone. He still had that aura, something usually associated with football’s megastars. Following him around that day were his little boys, both wearing All Blacks shirts with 'Lomu 11' on the back. He had conquered the sporting world and had stood upon its summit; now he was focused on being a father, perhaps a tougher feat. It is this that is most tragic about his sudden passing.

Going back to his playing days, Lomu's emergence on the world stage swept away rugby's traditional style and heralded a new dawn. Simply put, he was a professional athlete playing an amateur game. He turned heads with his unique combination of athleticism, brute force and beautifully balanced running style. In one tournament he changed the sport forever, helping to boost the appeal of rugby worldwide.

There is no doubt the sport would eventually have gone professional, but Jonah helped accelerate the transition. The 'Lomu Effect' from the 1995 Rugby World Cup had people talking about the Kiwi giant in homes, pubs and workplaces around the world – attracting people who had never watched a game of rugby before.

Soon after the '95 RWC, the 'Lomu Effect' led Rupert Murdoch to enter into negotiations with SANZAR to secure the rights to the newly established Tri-Nations and Super 12, and in doing so helped launch rugby into the professional era. Lomu's former agent, Phil Kingsley-Jones, revealed that one of the key points raised in the negotiations was that Sky wanted to ensure Lomu would be playing for NZ as he was the blockbuster star who would drive audience figures. Lomu had offers from the NFL but, fortunately for rugby, he stayed put.It wasn't just on the pitch that Lomu saw success, as he also became the face of the sport off it. One of the first TV ads I can remember was for Pizza Hut, featuring Jonah and the Underwood brothers, poking fun at how the big man had swatted them away on the pitch.
Adidas further increased his legend with the iconic photo-shoot on the banks of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown (see above image) to promote the All Blacks kit. In 2008, they named him in their Hall of Fame, further cementing his legacy as the first global superstar of the sport. Codemasters even launched a computer game dedicated to the big man in 1997 - Jonah Lomu Rugby the first ever rugby union game - that reflected his status as one of the world's most marketable stars. Other players have since reached global superstar status in the game, such as Jonny Wilkinson, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, but no-one comes close to Jonah.He became bigger than rugby; bigger than sport even, and was elevated to a level reserved for the likes of Pele and Muhammad Ali. Brand Lomu continued to grow even when his playing days finished and this year, around RWC 2015, his fame was as strong as ever. The fact that news of his passing at the young age of 40 was a top story on all international news outlets, when so much else has been going on in the world, shows how big a deal he was.He was a man mountain on the pitch and a gentle giant off it. He changed rugby forever, showing how stars of the sport could promote the game outside of its traditional fan base. He was the perfect ambassador for rugby, the perfect ambassador for sport and the perfect ambassador for how to carry oneself through life.

The 'Lomu Effect' will live on.

The Rugby World Cup 2011 Post Mortem

Over a month on from the Rugby World Cup Final and the post mortems are just about complete. Global TV audiences of 4 billion have been reported, social media round-ups published, teams of the tournament have been selected by all and sundry, and the New Zealand Herald has discovered some other sports to write about. Only England seems relentlessly stuck in review and recrimination mode, with new personnel and processes being announced on a weekly basis. While the RFU sifts through the carnage of dwarf-throwing, ferry jumping, ball-swapping and under-performing, here’s a slightly lighter examination of the brand marketing activity that surrounded the world’s third biggest sporting event.

In the previous Synopsis, Synergy’s new head of content, Colin Burgess, outlined the key ingredients for successful content that will illicit the deepest audience engagement: authority, authenticity – and the holy grail of all marketing – making it memorable. Applying those criteria to sponsor content during the Rugby World Cup goes a long way to explaining why activity might or might not have resonated with rugby fans.

Authority first. This is largely determined by the content’s provenance – it needs to be produced and delivered by a trusted and credible source. Some brands activating around the Rugby World Cup have a natural advantage in the authority stakes for various reasons:

1) Their inherent role in the game and on the pitch (the likes of adidas, Nike and Gilbert)

2) Through their long-standing presence as a rugby sponsor (see O2, Guinness and Heineken)

3) By their connection with the host nation (for example Air New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand)

Throwing in a few brand ambassadors is another well-trodden path to creating or supplementing a brand’s natural authority and giving the content a credibility boost. A great example of this, and fantastic use of owned media, came from Air New Zealand, who painted their fleet black and produced a safety video featuring members of the All Blacks team. Nearly 1m online views for a 4 minute safety video. Job well done.

On to authenticity and content that connects through personal or social relevance. To get the kitemark of rugby authenticity, sponsors adopted a variety of techniques:

1) Showing an understanding and empathy for the particular humour, culture and spirit of rugby fans

2) Playing on the history and heritage of the game and previous tournaments

3) Tapping into events as they happen in the tournament to become part of the narrative of the Rugby World Cup

Below are Synergy's nominations for the brands that most successfully delivered authentic content during the World Cup, embodying those three techniques.  But in keeping with rugby’s community spirit, please add your own nominations for the best brand content around the 2011 Rugby World Cup in the comments section below:

O2, with a tradition of giving free pies and pints to customers at Twickenham, adapted their customer proposition to fit early morning rugby viewing. Ashton donning an apron, Jonny making tea (after numerous practice sessions, no doubt), and Jonno with the control (no comment...). Relevant content from a long-standing rugby sponsor. If only it had been Guinness not Greene King in the breakfast packs...

Steinlager proved that an ambush marketer can still exhibit authority (what is more relevant to All Blacks supporters than beer, and a Kiwi brand at that?), authenticity (connecting through the collective anguish of New Zealand’s Rugby World Cup chokes) and a brilliant creative idea (reviving the Steinlager white can)...
Wilkinson Sword showed their quick thinking and wit by creating a pre-Final advert encouraging Lievremont to shave his ridiculous moustache.

It was precisely the fact that these campaigns came from a place of authority and authenticity that made them the most memorable.

But, all in all, the Rugby World Cup will not go down in the Sponsorship Hall of Fame as a high-water mark of sponsorship activity.  So what was missing from sports marketing activity and particularly content around Rugby World Cup 2011? The answer is 'just about everything' from the 4th Era of Sponsorship: interactivity, genuine collaboration and contribution from fans within brand campaigns (beyond the standard encouragement to tweet a hashtag...), exciting use of mobile, and memorable, game-changing innovation.

Let’s hope brands were keeping their powder dry for 2012, and the unprecedented marketing spend we are going to see around the Olympic Games.  And let’s also hope that by Rugby World Cup 2015, we’ll be seeing more innovative, truly engaging and memorable content than this:

Wilkinson Sword showed their quick thinking and wit by creating a pre-Final advert encouraging Lievremont to shave his ridiculous moustache.

It was precisely the fact that these campaigns came from a place of authority and authenticity that made them the most memorable.

But, all in all, the Rugby World Cup will not go down in the Sponsorship Hall of Fame as a high-water mark of sponsorship activity.  So what was missing from sports marketing activity and particularly content around Rugby World Cup 2011? The answer is 'just about everything' from the 4th Era of Sponsorship: interactivity, genuine collaboration and contribution from fans within brand campaigns (beyond the standard encouragement to tweet a hashtag...), exciting use of mobile, and memorable, game-changing innovation.

Let’s hope brands were keeping their powder dry for 2012, and the unprecedented marketing spend we are going to see around the Olympic Games.  And let’s also hope that by Rugby World Cup 2015, we’ll be seeing more innovative, truly engaging and memorable content than this: