Facing a crowded athleisure market, women's retailer Athleta is honing in on a younger demographic to differentiate itself from competitors and invoke its core mission of empowering a sisterhood of women and girls.
Last week, Athleta kicked off the first brand campaign centered on its apparel collection for girls. "Stay in the Game" aims to encourage girls in elementary and middle school to continue playing sports and inspire them to lead active lives as they grow, Athleta's vice president of marketing Sheila Shekar Pollak told Marketing Dive in an interview.
Some sobering numbers are behind the campaign that's working to boost girls' confidence and promote sports-fueled leadership skills.
"We saw some statistics that concerned us," Shekar Pollak said. "By 14, girls' confidence plummets as 50% of girls drop out of sports — that's two times the rate that boys do. For girls who do stay in sports, their confidence levels dip less and go back up quicker. That really stopped us in our tracks, as both moms and athletes."
'The Power of She'
Two campaign videos, one 15- and the other 45-seconds long, depict girls racing around a track, scoring during a soccer scrimmage and flipping tires. "Excuses get lost in the thunder of every breath I take," says a voice, which soon melds with another and the two perform slam poetry throughout the commercial. The clips aired on Athleta's YouTube channel last week and will appear as pre- and mid-roll ads on Hulu and YouTube later this month. Not coincidentally, the ads appear at a time when families are preparing for the new school year and making decisions around after-school activities.
For the first time, young girls will be featured on a limited-edition Athleta catalog that will be sent to a targeted segment of 10,000 customers. But the initiative isn't just for girls. Inside, girls and their moms will find a special note from Athleta. The messaging for moms carries over to the website as well.
"We know how hard it is to be a mom during girls' transition around 13, so we're inspiring them to start a conversation," Shekar Pollak said about a tip sheet Athleta created for moms that includes guidance on how to handle a bad sports coach and talk about what playing sports might look like for their daughter. Athleta worked with nonprofit Girls Leadership on the tip sheet, which is available on the organization's website.
While the campaign is the first for Athleta Girl, it fits naturally into the company's broader marketing strategy of igniting a community of strong, active women, Shekar Pollak said.
"It's really about purpose first for us at Athleta, and our products are just ways to enable women and girls to achieve their goals," she added.
"By 14, girls' confidence plummets as 50% of girls drop out of sports — that's two times the rate that boys do... That really stopped us in our tracks, as both moms and athletes."
Sheila Shekar Pollak
VP of Marketing, Athleta
The girls' line of apparel launched in April 2016, the same month Athleta established its purpose-driven mission, extending the retailer's products and messaging to include younger women and "change the narrative for girls around sports and athleticism."
Having a field day
To drum up excitement around the campaign launch, Athleta hosted a field day on July 31 for girls and parents in New York City. Stations around the court at an Equinox Sports Club featured games and athletic activities, all with an empowering twist, such as crisscross strong, spirit spike volleyball and a three-legged race finale. The kickoff event aimed to highlight the campaign's message of merging Athleta Girl with the spirit of sports.
"We wanted it to be multigenerational, a special chance where everyone could come and have fun with the girls in their lives while getting active," said Kate Flannery, Athleta's director of public relations and partnerships.
Though the focus of "Stay in the Game" centers on sports, structured sports aren't the only answer, according to the company's executives.
"We aren't saying that all girls should be NCAA athletes or participate in the Olympics, but rather, that staying in sports helps to build confidence and friendships that can have a long-term impact on girls' daily lives," Shekar Pollak said. "When we first started digging in, we found that 61% of female executives said athletic activities contributed to their success, so we see sports as a multidimensional element to life."