Welcome to the advent of the new marketing frontier – “Social Movement Marketing”.

As the Chair of the Marketing to Women Conferences in the Middle East and a marketing professional with years of experience, I have long been a proponent of what engages with women.

The recipe for success constitutes long-term communications which aim to not only to change attitudes through social media and clever content curation, but which also drive hard-hitting measurable change in local communities.


A great example of this is the “This Girl Can Campaign”.

This Girl Can is the name and strapline for Sport England,  the UK’s body dedicated to growing and supporting participation in sport, to encourage girls and women to become more active.

Sport England’s research highlighted that girls and women do not participate in sports because of fear of judgement. Whilst they find the concept of sport appealing, women in the UK perceived that sweating and “jiggling” would make them open to judgement from others.

Since time of launch, 25 million people have viewed the flagship This Girl Can film online and the hashtag is often a top trend on twitter.

Whilst a UK campaign, it has gone viral globally. The communications industry has recognised its power, and has awarded Sport England no less than 9 Cannes Lyons Gold awards at last year’s Cannes Lyons Festival.


What is behind This Girl Can’s Success?

1. It is about real women – every woman is a star 

Real women are clearly sweating and jiggling in sport and in all sporting activities. The campaign does not feature celebrities nor stars. The average woman is the star. No social stratum dominates. Women from all parts of the UK and across the social spectrum feature in its communication.

Interestingly, some celebrities took part in the Twitter conversation, but of their own accord. They deny any payment.

Image: ThisGirlCan website

2. It empowers women with powerful messages

The message is driven home through hard hitting lines. Language such as ‘Sweating like a pig, feeling like an ox’ are used to prompt attitude change. There is nothing politically correct about this campaign. Its honesty and transparency are palpable.

And this is perhaps why it has captured the female zeitgeist – nothing is off limits.

No soft politically correct attitudes around women are stated. The play of words is clear in statements such as “I play with balls. Deal with it’. This provocative language captures the new attitudes to sport that today’s women desire.

3. Real grass-roots activation create local impact

Reading the Twitter #thisgirlcan community conversation, or the dedicated thisgirlcan web portal, Sport England’s message is supported by getting women to announce where they will be exercising, and openly inviting other women to join. Women are also invited to share their sweaty pictures, with no make-up, nor filters. Anyone can be celebrated.

4. It breaks stereotypes of what women can and cannot do

The strategy and execution of this campaign clearly break any barriers on which women can and can’t perform sport. Overweight, disabled, young, old, no characteristics matter. ANYONE can do it.

This democratisation of the message is crucial to its wide appeal.

Sport is no longer the confines for able-bodied, perfectly contoured women undertaking girly sport such as ballet – all sport is open to all and of all abilities.

Football, boxing, rugby, all sports are open to women.

Crucially, the campaign highlights how women feel when doing sports. These feelings drive the attitude change – combining the possibility of doing new sport (even if traditionally being male-dominated) and feeling good are a winning combination. The image of a female boxer with “Under these gloves is a beautiful manicure” just says it all.

5. Conceived by a Diverse Client and Agency Team

Diversity in the Marketing Communications world has been a hotly debated subject. Sport England’s CEO has openly stated that the success of the campaign is also down to a diverse working team – both on the agency and client side.

Whilst the agency creative and copywriter were both male, the pitch team and the lead individuals in the campaign were female which meant the CEO could ‘short circuit an awful lot of conversations”.

Can this girl can translate to the Middle East?

I believe This Girl Can ethos can be adapted to suit the Middle East and the GCC. I don’t believe a cut and paste approach will be appropriate.

A culturally sensitised, locally relevant campaign which used the above 5 key pillars is required. I believe the challenge is fear of shaking the waters.

Fear from brands and their creative teams of pushing the boat out.

Whilst some great campaigns such as Maggie Diaries or Nayomi’s 200smiles, are clearly resonating on the social media realms, initiatives which also encourage grass-roots attitudinal change are non-existent.

Campaigns still rely on the “safe” celebrity endorsement approach. All too often they still fall into the trap of portraying women in the traditional “home-maker”/mother category.

Women in the GCC are changing in attitude and aspirations. They are working in all fields and earning money off their own back. They are driving consumption of products from themselves and their families, yet they feel largely stereotyped.

It will take a bold brand to seize the opportunity of this attitudinal shift in women and leverage it to encourage local change whilst driving the emotional connection with their female consumers.

This region is full of endless opportunities to do so – as long and the words ‘play safe’ are not part of the brand philosophy for those who take it on.

Perhaps that is one thing that This Girl Can has to teach to local marketers.

Courage will pay dividends.