I Say Potato, You Say Sexist - But Where Was Adidas In The Women's World Cup?

A bizarre couple of twists around the Women's World Cup show how tricky female messaging can be for digital marketers. Ironically, the noise surrounding the latest developments has, for me, covered up the one brand that has had a total Women's World Cup epic fail -- official sponsor, Adidas, but more on that later.

First to the headlines. which have proven two things this week. Firstly, the "get yourself in to shape you lazy so and so" message only works for men -- and when in doubt, don't put labels on women.

What I am on about? Well, yesterday the English FA deleted a pretty ill-advised tweet welcoming our "lionesses" back as returning mothers, daughters and partners. It was surely well-intentioned as a genuine welcoming back of the ladies who did the country so proud. It was clearly misguided, but soon backfired, with social media being flooded with complaints that it was sexist to say they could now "go back to" being mothers. The reaction was understandable. These were athletes coming home to still be athletes -- they weren't off in Canada for a spot of sport before coming home to cook the kids' dinner. 

So the rule that this probably shows us is that if you wouldn't relay a message to a male audience, then you have to think very carefully about saying it to a female one. If you wouldn't say to the men's team something along the lines of a big welcome back, how it's time for the school run and some baking, then it might not be a good idea to relay the same type of message to the women's team. The irony is that if the FA tweet been alongside a photo of team members hugging partners and kids, then it could possibly have worked as showing the human side of the Lionesses returning to loved ones. Anyway, it has given social media managers some real food for thought and a mantra that if it doesn't apply to men, it might sound sexist to say it to women.

This is where I am completely perplexed with BBH New York reappropriating the Protein World "Beach Ready Body" picture and creative in an ad in America supporting the victorious USA ladies team. The ad, which was withdrawn from the UK before a decision was made that it was legal and did not objectify women, has somehow been turned into a female empowerment campaign in America. Cover over some of the copy with World Cup and put a soccer jersey over the model, and all of a sudden, you have a female empowerment message. Okay -- I kind of get it, but I think I'd get it more if it were one of the stars of the team. That would make sense. Here's an athlete whose body is honed to perfection so she can compete for her country at the highest level, not solely to get admiring glances on a beach. 

As it is, however, we still have the same model as the UK poster -- and sorry to be the fly in the ointment, but didn't the model work pretty hard in the gym for that beach-ready body? Doesn't a football player with a great physique put as much pressure on the body image of those who haven't put in the hours on the pitch just as much as those who haven't lifted a dumbbell recently? Needless to say, I'm perplexed how the same image's implications can be reversed by the words "World Cup" and the American football shirt. 

What I really don't understand is this. If I were to ask you which of the big kit manufacturers sponsors the Women's World Cup, I suspect you wouldn't know for sure? It's for the very good reason that Adidas has managed to keep it very quiet. Not a major mention of it on their Web site, in stark contrast to the men's World Cup. There's not even any messaging on the football/soccer section nor, even more surprisingly, the women's football/soccer section. Honestly, I'm not kidding. It just wasn't there. Instead of referencing the event, however, whenever I took a look, a tie-up with Stella McCartney was the focus of its messaging around women's sports. If you want to double-check whether Adidas really was involved, you can look at FIFA's list of sponsors here.

So riddle me this. Is it worse to inadvertently patronise the England team or ignore the event altogether? You'll see a lot about the former, but I bet you nobody else is picking up on the latter.

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