Campaign Trail is our analysis of some of the best new creative efforts from the marketing world. View past columns in the archives here.
The FIFA Women's World Cup has been a godsend for sports fans during the dog days of summer this year and comes at a tipping point for women's football, a sport that has seen surging fan attention, ticket sales and broadcast audiences, with this year's Cup forecast to notch two billion viewers.
The sport has also increasingly drawn sponsorships from blue-chip brands including the likes of Budweiser, McDonald's and Unilever, with some, like Frito-Lay, making their largest-ever investments in women’s sports. For Adidas, a partner of the Women's World Cup since 1995, this year's event provided an opportunity to highlight the progress the sport has made — and what it still needs to reach full equality with men's football.
Launched last month, just days before the tournament began, "Play Until They Can't Look Away" revolves around a 30-second ad soundtracked by SL2's rave-ready 1992 hit "On a Ragga Tip." The spot features rising stars Alessia Russo, Lena Oberdorf and Mary Fowler playing football in unorthodox locations — a technicolor supermarket, an arcade-bowling alley and the woods, respectively — as they show off their skills alongside brand ambassador Jenna Ortega and football giants including David Beckham, Lionel Messi and Leon Goretzka.
As the action cuts with the ball between settings and scenarios, items like a grocer's nametag that reads "Oceaunz" (the official match ball of the tournament) and a checkout display that says "It's Coming Home" (the anthem of English soccer) serve as Easter Eggs for dedicated fans. Taking stars off the pitch and putting them in a brightly color, high-energy spot was central to Adidas' strategy around attracting Gen Z and lighter fans of football to the women's game, explained Global Communications Director Women & Adidas by Stella McCartney Sina Neubrandt.
"We wanted to break out of the football category conventions," Neubrandt said. "It's really about talking to an audience that maybe isn't yet fully bought into [women's] football, but also you're making it exciting visually and putting them in a context that is quite unexpected, that draws the viewer in and catches their attention."
Impossible to ignore
Before crafting "Play Until They Can't Look Away," Adidas gathered insights around the state of the women's game and what role Adidas and a campaign should play. The brand found that despite the energy around the sport, with women's football hitting the mainstream in many countries, it still has more work to do to reach full equality with men's football in other countries and regions. In kind, Adidas decided to use its brand to drive energy and focus to the women's game, using its portfolio of old football stars (and Ortega, a rising actor and booster of the sport) to elevate new ones.
"We wanted to really use our platform to create household names and make those girls known for their talent, athleticism and skills in the context of this campaign," Neubrandt said. "We want to show that the women's game has come so far and it's really impossible to ignore nowadays… Either you love football or you don't."
The idea of women's football being "impossible to ignore" was a collaborative effort between various teams throughout Adidas — insight, football specialists, women's brand communications — that was brought to life by creative agencies TBWA\Neboko and TBWA London, social agency TBWA\X and film production company CANADA, among others.
"It's all about collaboration. We are big believers that when different minds come together, the work and the world gets to a better place," Neubrandt said.
While creating a campaign inside a large organization like Adidas can be "super complex," Neubrandt called out the expert knowledge available throughout the process, from public relations partners that can help the brand avoid pitfalls, to detailed-oriented football specialists, to a creative agency and internal brand marketing team.
"All these entities coming together and shaping it can be painful sometimes, because there are many opinions, but if you fish out what is important to the creative, you actually can elevate it," she said. "Collaboration is key to making exceptional work."
"Play Until They Can't Look Away" also required collaboration with plenty of assistants and schedulers as Adidas worked to align availabilities of major stars to get the footage in the can and edited, with Neubrandt describing the effort as a "beast of a project." But in the end, the campaign represents the next step in Adidas' ongoing journey to elevate women's football by breaking through a brand-heavy tournament with timely creative that has purpose and a point of view. The spot has more than 120,000 views as of press time, and the brand has seen positive sentiment from both male and female consumers.
"At the end of the day, there's just one football," Neubrandt said, "and it doesn't have a gender."