This Girl Can

Amy McHenry, Senior Account Director at Isobar UK describes her reaction to recent Sport England campaign…

this girl can

For the first time in as long as I can remember, I fell in love with a campaign at first sight.

Imagine this if you dare – an average weekday evening with average woman sitting in pj’s (inevitably) on her sofa, watching TV and working on her laptop (inevitably). Nothing much is going on – nothing of note on TV, half watching, half working. But hang on just a minute, what’s this? A woman, running up a hill, fat wobbling, sweat pouring. Missy Elliot telling us to get our freak on while other women literally let it ALL hang out up, up close and personal in a Zumba class and more.

If I’d been standing, it would have stopped me in my tracks, but as it was, I sat, stunned by the fact that I was watching a commercial that showed sweaty, chubby, muscly, young, middle-aged and red-faced women utterly committed to their sport of choice, sticking two fingers up at the world and telling us all, This Girl Can.

Mind blowing.

For me personally, it was a revelation. I’ve played rugby for years and therefore know more than most about just how capable women are of playing truly physical sport, no matter their age, weight or ability. But never in all my years had I seen the media dare to portray women in lycra as anything other than Amazonian, airbrushed models or professionally honed athletes with rock hard abs and chiselled thighs. As for tackling the icky business of being sweaty – heaven forbid!

This Girl Can

These women are amazing. From Victoria who is quite literally a soaking wet, red-faced mop of curly hair in a spin class to Kelly, a single mum who gets her three children doing crunches and leg lifts with her on the floor of her living room. Most amazing of of all though is Sam; Sam who is 100 times braver than me and has her wobbly backside, cellulite dimpled thighs and sagging bingo wings plastered on billboards all over the UK and who simply doesn’t give a damn.

Sam’s teenage daughter has been quoted as saying she has never been prouder of her mum- for having the courage to be filmed sweating, jiggling and struggling, running up a hill in order to show millions of other women that they can too. I can well believe that and boy, do I wish I was brave enough to do the same.

Needless to say then, when the opportunity came up to go and meet the creators of this ground-breaking communications at AdWeek Europe, I was straight on the case. I went along to the YouTube Stage at BAFTA, full of expectancy and excitement to learn about this remarkable campaign from the inside out from Tanya Joseph (Sport England) and Vicki Holgate (of FCB Inferno). Our presenters took to the stage-unsurprisingly, all of the leads were women –and as they spoke, they unpacked the story behind why #thisgirlcan was born, why it had to be done and what it has created. Without wanting to drown you in statistics, let me spell out the core thought at the heart of this: the reason that a vast number of women don’t participate in sport is through fear of judgement.

Fear of judgement about their looks while they are participating – the red faces, sweat patches under armpits, hair plastered to a forehead. Fear of judgement about their ability, that they will be belittled and mocked if they try and struggle. Fear of judgement of their priorities – the guilt a new mum feels when she swaps putting her little one to bed one night for a spin class. A class she’s desperate to attend to shed a little of the weight the little one helped her put on. The guilt a busy, working woman feels at putting her needs first at times, instead of her work. Recent government research showed that, sadly, feel self-conscious about participation in sport can start as early as 7 or 8 years old for girls.

Any other women reading this and recognising part of themselves here?

The campaign needed to do something extremely difficult; it needed to create a behavioural change in women and their relationship to sport that could be ultimately taken by the women it was aimed at and owned.

It had to be ground-breaking, disruptive, fresh and surprising, reshaping the language around women and sport but most importantly of all, it had to be something that could be owned by the women and the sporting partners around them. This is where the work shifted from being a campaign to campaigning.

Communications were rooted completely in unashamed reality, with zero retouching or airbrushing done to any of the women involved in the campaign. These extraordinary images were supported with short, powerful headlines designed to pack a punch. To my enormous pleasure, a number of the videos were played on the big screen, taking us all back to that place where we had first seen them and the vibe in the room noticeably lifted – there was a lot of love, hope and positivity going on.


Against these challenging objectives, would the campaign work with the women that it was targeted at? The team planned their media meticulously, launching first through traditional press and building engagement with influencers, columnists and magazines-all of whom were eager to get involved, then building up to the moment on Jan 12th 2015 when in the ad break for Coronation Street, the 90 second TVC was aired. Cue the beginning of one of the most powerful social campaigns we’ve seen in years.

A dizzying 25,000,000 campaign views, trending at no. 2 in both Twitter and Google hot trends, 250,000 social followers and 198,000 social interactions later, #thisgirlcan has proven that it has certainly strike a nerve. More importantly, it has created a platform where women could not only voiced their sheer relief at seeing that at last, they could let go a little, hopefully a lot, of the anxieties that held them back, they could celebrate and support each other.

The social channels became self-moderating and collaborative. The #thisgirlcan team deliberately started having a conversation with women, offering encouragement and praise but very quickly, this turned to complete strangers jumping into the conversation and doing the same. Most remarkably, the #thisgirlcan community began self-moderating any negative comments posted without the campaign team needing to get involved – an incredibly low 1% of posts expressed any negative sentiment – my, how many brands would love to see that kind of data.

It’s been an incredible demonstration of how truly willing collaboration between client and agency can deliver some absolutely spectacular results. Sport England knew they had to do something truly big; FCB Inferno knew they had the brief that all agencies would kill for – a perfect match to drive inspirational, long-lasting work.

For me, the most important thing is that it happened. I can’t tell you the number of times I have stood in the mirror, looking critically at my tummy, my legs and everywhere else, feeling like I am less perfect somehow because I don’t look like those images we see everywhere. It’s a little painful to admit that, but it’s been part of my life since I was a teenager. So, if this campaign helps a new (and current) generation of women to think ‘sod that – I’m going training’ no matter what they look like, then it has succeeded a hundredfold.


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