The Forgotten Rule of Marketing

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As we approach the end of 2017, I could spend many hours reflecting on the big marketing stories of the year. But amongst all the debates between VR and AI, there was one very personal topic that had such an impact on me, it inspired me to start my own agency.

During the summer, I was sent the infamous Billabong blog not just from one of my friends, but 100s. With many years of marketing behind me they were asking me to “sort this shit out!”


The most impactful statement though actually came from a man. Whilst I was out climbing with a father of two from Australia (clearly a global issue) he expressed his concerns. His teenage daughters were keen surfers and rock climbers but he was frustrated that they were being exposed to this kind of marketing. His was, without doubt, the loudest voice I heard during those summer months. He did not want his daughters growing up to believe a wave was too big, or all they had to offer the world was lying on a beach in swimwear!

As I started to explore this topic more, I found many examples of brands misrepresenting females in the sports industry, particularly within the outdoor sports sector.

Women in Adventure, an independent research project with over 400 respondents, concluded that coverage should focus on achievement, not gender.

The most common trend in their research is that women are inspired by role models that they can relate to. As a keen sports enthusiast, I can definitely say that I do not relate to this image nor should I aspire to it.

There are some positives and we only need to look at the hugely successful ‘This Girl Can’ campaign to see that some organisations are trying to change. According to Sport England, 2.8 million women have done some, or more activity, as a result of their campaign.

Likewise, evidence from Getty Images showing the most popular image purchased under the term ‘woman’ is a stark contrast to that from 10 years ago.





But the Billabong images and many more like it, does highlight there is still a long way to go. Especially considering This Girl Can marketing spend was approx. £8million, which is frankly lost in the overall global advertising spend for sports brands. Nike alone spent at least £800million last year. To make a real difference, brands themselves need to change the way they are talking to their audience.

To be clear, this is not a blog specifically on the misrepresentation of females in marketing. I believe we should explore why sports brands are getting it so wrong. Personally, I believe that brands are simply not making the effort to conduct the relevant research in our industry.

Many agencies say they are ‘customer centric’ and we know the first rule of marketing is always to listen to your customer. Right? But clearly even the big agencies are still forgetting to understand real human emotions of their target audience (see previous post).

The fact that the original ‘Billabong blog’ from Karen Knowlton, was shared around the world highlights the frustration from their own target audience. Take notice!

And all the research we have access to, stating that women want to be able to ‘relate’ to brand images, means that marketers are just simply forgetting to do their job properly.

I strongly urge all those brand marketers who continue to conform to ‘tradition’, to get their shit together. Stop being lazy and remember one simple starting place, before any creative is developed – truly understand your customer.

We don’t just owe that to our industry, we also owe it to all the teenage girls out there who should aspire to riding that massive wave, scoring that epic goal or climbing that first summit!