Women, Sports and #Femvertising

July  17,  2015 / By Christina DiPietro

Friday, July 17th 2015 marks the inaugural, #Femvertising awards proudly presented by SheKnows Media. The multi-media platform is now the top, women’s lifestyle, digital media company with an impressive 81 million unique visits per month. Their girl-powered, awards are taking place in perfect harmony with current events, swiftly following the Glass Lion debut at the 2015 Cannes Lions and the USA’s recent triumph at the 2015 FIFA Woman’s World Cup.

How are these three, historical events successfully correlated? Not only are the likes of Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach and the rest of the team now legends on the soccer pitch, but they are emerging superstars of the Marketing / Advertising arena. With Lloyd getting promptly scooped up by a Visa sponsorship, Fox pulling in a whopping $40 million in ad-sales and Nike’s inspiring #NoMaybes ad campaign, the women of the World Cup are new, social media influencers. They are role models for all, strong, successful women who are now at the social media and commercial success where consumers and sports fans can regard them as symbols of hard work, patriotism and gender equality.

Commuting to work the morning of the ticker tape parade in NY for Team USA was quite the experience. Between the screaming fans fostering way too much enthusiasm for an early ferry and the face-painted kids struggling to stay awake, the commute was thick with pride and energy. Observing the fan-packed boat, I couldn’t help but smile. The soccer victory truly bonded people from all walks of life under one, shared moment of joy – I was basically tailgating at 8:00am. Aside from the feeling of community, I was fascinated by another detail: men in Carli Lloyd jerseys. As a woman and avid sports fan since before I could walk, this was a huge deal. Not only for the sports fan in me, but for the nation – for the world. As a kid, I remember watching the New York Jets games with my family, scanning the field for a pony tail hanging from a helmet. As I grew up, I wore my old, Glenn Foley jersey every Sunday and didn’t think twice about it. Eventually it became the norm; I would be a woman in a man’s jersey watching a man’s sport. For a young girl in the 90s, there weren’t many female athletes portrayed in the media and advertising, but here in 2015, female athletes are finally getting the recognition they deserve. Seeing a young boy sprint past me on the ferry proudly displaying his Women’s USA jersey was satisfying to see, as both a woman and a sports fan.

Of course, the USA win was monumental in the sports arena, but will it have a lasting effect on the nation’s view of women? With 2015 being described as the “Year of Ronda Rousey” by ESPN, there’s hope. Even if you aren’t an avid UFC fan, it’s proven difficult to not hear of the female MMA powerhouse. Rousy has been paving the way for female athletes with unwavering confidence, bringing in over $3MM a year in sponsorship dollars. The rise of female athlete popularity brings with it a rise in female athlete sponsors and advertising campaigns. With those small steps for women-kind, come leaps: female-targeted, brand ad campaigns have begun taking up major spots during sporting events. During the 2014 Super Bowl, I was both elated and shocked to see my favorite commercial of all time appear on the screen: Always’ “Like a Girl” campaign. #LikeaGirl encourages viewers to redefine what it means to do things “like a girl.” I can’t hit a baseball to save my life, but I’ve been told since I was young that I “hit like a girl.” To me, this meant that I hit poorly. With plenty of athletic women out there, why does “hitting like a girl” have a negative connotation? The #LikeaGirl campaign questions that negative logic and boosts young girls athletes’ self-esteem. The fact that this ad was even created is incredibly inspiring; the fact that it aired primetime during the Super Bowl astonished me. Thanks to the exposure of this moving ad, millions are reconsidering what it means to do something “like a girl.” Girls and women are beginning to take the “accusation” as a compliment, and boys and men are careful not to use the phrase as a form of belittlement. With over 100MM sets of eyes glued to television screens during Super Bowl XLVI, the ad reach was phenomenal.

There are millions of female sports fans, millions of female athletes and millions of girls looking to be represented and empowered. What are we telling the girls that dream of going pro by flooding them with gender-biased imagery during sporting events? Brands are taking notice to the lack of female ad representation and more women are being represented in ads supporting sports. More female athletes are being picked by endorsers, and awards such as the Glass Lion and #Femervising are shedding a light on this growing market of positive ads highlighting equality and female empowerment. Put perfectly by Fox Sports’ EVP of ad sale, Neil Mulcahy: “There’s a significant female audience that has a strong buying power that you’re reaching through the NFL. It was always cut-and-dry that men watch sports and women didn’t. Research is now telling us otherwise.”

Sports brands like Nike and Under Armour are creating unique ways to appeal to the female consumer with stylish workout gear and inspiring social media campaigns. #Femvertising is not only beneficial socially, but economically for the brands that are the best storytellers. Women are more likely to engage with and purchase a brand to which they they have an emotional link. According to Adweek, 52% of women bought a product because they were happy with how the brand portrayed women and 43% said it made them “feel good” about supporting those particular brands.

Finally, a telling 92% of women can name one pro-female ad campaign. Positive, empowering storytelling works. The art of positive advertising is a force to be reckoned with. When brands use their power to promote gender equality, the results are positive. On the other end, 94% of women surveyed believe portraying women as sex symbols in advertising is harmful. Brands can’t possibly benefit from the gender with the most purchasing power being unhappy with their ad campaigns. Though positive female representation is lacking across all forms of media, I’m glad to see the clear progress in the sports arena since it’s very close to my heart. As we move closer to true gender equality, there won’t be a need for a Glass Lion and all ads will portray gender equality in sports and beyond. The same, of course can be said for the #Femervising awards. #Femvertising tells a story – the women in these ads aren’t sexualized, they aren’t reduced to cheerleaders in the stands; they are featured on the field playing side by side with the men.

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