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Sport’s Most Impactful Equity, Inclusion And Diversity Campaigns

5 mins read

After the global resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, brands were falling over themselves to proclaim allyship. Audiences were inundated with diversity campaigns and while many of these declarations proved to be performative, Microsoft’s whitepaper looking into Gen Z, inclusion and advertising later that year confirmed it was still a prudent choice because audiences expected diverse marketing from brands.

Around 70% of participants said they were more trusting of brands representing diversity in ads, and roughly the same number felt brands that represent diversity were more authentic. The most inclusive advert shown during the research also saw a 23-point uplift in purchase intent, but audiences are savvy. They’ll quickly be able to tell if your brand has created a diversity campaign as an advertising gimmick or if you really do care about inclusion.

In the same whitepaper, almost half the respondents said they had stopped purchasing from brands that didn’t represent their values, and Microsoft’s Marketing With Purpose Playbook says inclusive marketing drives trust. However, using diversity for marketing purposes is a risky strategy if you’re not committed to actually making your brand more diverse and can cause a serious and sometimes permanent disconnect with the people you’re trying to reach. So, where do you start?

There are lots of worthwhile causes you could champion, but creating a diversity campaign that aligns with your brand values is key. Here are some of our favourites from the world of sport.

Arsenal FC: Gay Gooners Support

When Carl Fearns heard homophobic chants from fellow Arsenal fans whilst commiserating with a post-match pint, he spoke to the pub landlord, who confessed he didn’t know how to put an end to the issue. As co-chair of Arsenal’s LGBT+ supporter group, Gay Gooners, Carl approached the club for help raising awareness, and they pulled out all the stops with a brilliantly inclusive diversity campaign.

Falling during LGBT History Month, the campaign activation happened before and during Arsenal’s February 2022 win against Brentford at the Emirates’ Stadium, and included a variety of touch points.

To drive home the human impact of homophobia in football, the club worked with the Gay Gooners to produce a film sharing their lived experience as LGBT+ football fans.

In the film, members of Gay Gooners talked about the magic of hearing the roar of the crowd, the unique rush of your first stadium experience and the contrast of homophobic chanting or uninviting environments that have discouraged many of them from attending matches.

The poignant film deftly wove together the universal fan experience, the struggles the Gay Gooners have faced, and their motivation to increase visibility of the LGBT+ community within football. The thought-provoking video was shown on the stadium screens at halftime, as well as Arsenal’s social media channels to remind fans in the stands and all over the world that Arsenal is for everyone, no matter who they are or who they love.

While Arsenal’s ultimate goal is for everyone to feel welcome, they recognised that LGBT+ fans might still be hesitant about attending a live football match. So, starting from the Brentford game, Arsenal made a box available so Gay Gooners could host members wary of attending Emirates in-person and ensure they had the full match experience in the safest and most comfortable way.

Inspired by Carl’s experience in the local pub, anti-discriminatory fliers and posters were distributed at local pubs to support landlords in taking a stance against homophobic chanting. A special LGBT+ themed programme was also available in the stadium, while two giant rainbow flags were waved pitchside by members of the Gay Gooners as the players took to the pitch and when both goals were scored.

The day felt extremely powerful and helped a minority fan community feel seen. Though it shouldn’t be, such an expression of solidarity with the LGBT+ community is still a bold move in football, and as a club known for its inclusive culture, Arsenal is perfectly placed to lead the way.

PFA: Racial Bias In Commentary

The murder of George Floyd was a moment of worldwide reckoning. Suddenly, people not directly impacted by systemic racism were having important conversations and thinking about their roles in upholding or speaking out against inequality. We had already been working on several Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) campaigns with our client, the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), including a groundbreaking study with data analyst company, RunRepeat.

The PFA delivered a unique diversity campaign that highlighted racial bias in football commentary. This was the first time any research had explored a possible relationship between the way player performance is described and the player’s skin tone. The study found a distinct pattern of language surrounding how players of different skin tones were described.

In a sample of more than 80 match transcripts, over 60% of praise for player intelligence was given to footballers with a lighter skin tone, while players with darker skin tones incurred an almost identical amount of criticism for their intellect. Commentators were also more likely to talk about the speed and physicality of players with darker skin tones and champion the work ethic of fairer-skinned players.

The study shocked the football industry but validated concerns many had previously raised about how players of different races were treated, especially in the media. The PFA’s campaign urged people to learn from the study’s findings and veteran sports broadcaster, Clive Tyldesley, called for improved commentator training.

The PFA facilitated just that, collaborating with BBC Sport to train hundreds of journalists and broadcasters in an anti-bias workshop that explained the historic racist context of everyday words and phrases and why we should avoid them.

Following the workshop, the BBC banned several offensive phrases from their programmes, and comms departments at other media outlets and sports organisations started paying more attention to how their work perpetuated microaggression and stereotypes.

Sport England: This Girl Can

In 2015, sport England launched This Girl Can – a brand new female-focused initiative as part of their wider mission to get the whole country more active. Research showed that although the country was becoming fitter in general, women were not participating in sports at the same rates as men.

Sport England found that many women worried about how they looked when working out, felt they didn’t have the skills to participate in sport or had more pressing priorities like work and families. All three reasons were rooted in fear of judgement, so Sport England decided the way to move past them was to create a diversity campaign that empowered women, made them feel less alone and removed the barriers stopping them from being more active.

The campaign launched with a TV campaign – launched during a Monday night Coronation Street episode for maximum target audience exposure – and included a dedicated hashtag, #ThisGirlCan, to encourage women to celebrate their activity and inspire others along the way. Sport England also created an app and website where women could find activities suited to their lifestyle to make it as easy as possible for them to take part in sport.

Following the initial campaign, the number of women playing sport and getting active once a week, every week increased by 250,000, with 1.6 million women starting or restarting exercise as a result of seeing the campaign. Sport England kept up the momentum with two follow up campaigns – a 2017 version focusing on women aged 40-60 and the latest phase focused on women from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds called Fit Got Real.

Each iteration of the campaign focused on specific challenges – confidence, pace, lack of access – and spoke to women honestly and with inspiration. As a result, This Girl Can is now a vibrant online community of over 700,000 women who celebrate each other, defy convention and find inventive ways to exercise on their own terms.

All three of these campaigns had one thing in common – they were successful because audiences perceived them as genuine and consistent with the brand’s values. Although each campaign addressed an important issue that often divides opinion, the approach, execution and messaging were extensions of the brand – instead of an attempt to tap into a trending topic.

If you’re thinking about building a diversity campaign, remember – authenticity can’t be manufactured, especially when it comes to important issues. You’ll need to make sure whatever cause you decide to champion is in line with your brand values and ultimately, helps you get closer to fulfilling your overall mission.

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