Changing Perceptions in Women’s Sport

On Monday 26th September there was a picture on the front page of the Guardian showing Manchester City Women celebrating the moment they became WSL Champions. On the front page. Now that is a step in the right direction. Less than a week later, the football club completed the double by winning the Continental Tyres Cup. There wasn't even time to put the champagne back on ice.

Female sporting role models surround us and it is brilliant. But, with all of these successes, it is important to take a step back and assess the impact this is having on women’s sport and, more pertinently, on young girls around the country. It would be difficult to argue that the aforementioned role models aren’t encouraging women to be active. But do they engage those that simply aren’t huge sports fans? Yes, Manchester City Women were on the front page of The Guardian and quite rightly the story focussed on their on-pitch successes. However, would you flick to the back pages to read the full story if you didn’t like football? Would you even notice it on the front page? Maybe not.

Inspiring young girls around the country to play sport can’t only be about the success of elite athletes. Moreover, changing perceptions of women in sport won’t be achieved solely in the back pages of the paper. It is, in fact, this prerequisite for somebody to like sport in order to play it, that might actually be putting people off. Instead, the value of sport and the impact it can have must be communicated in a much broader way which is relatable to all (sports fan or not). Not everybody should require an ambition to be the next Steph Houghton in order for them to feel empowered to kick a football. Young girls should instead want to go and play because the results are more far-reaching, they transcend sport itself. And because their everyday role models (enter mum and dad) are encouraging them to do it. Even mums and dads that don’t have a deeply ingrained passion for sport themselves.

A recent post on the Facebook account of ‘Parenting Girls – Raising Good Women’ argued that parents don't simply pay for their kids to play sports; they pay for the opportunities that sports provides to develop attributes that will serve them well throughout their lives. Respect, teamwork, winning and losing. The fundamental life skills that make up a well-rounded person. A recent ParkLives film by Synergy client Coca-Cola takes this one step further showing that sport can quite simply bring children, parents and communities together.

And the simplicity of this is what makes it the perfect area for brands to explore. It’s far too easy for us to simply tell the story of a female that has defied the odds to reach the pinnacle of her sport. Of course these stories can be incredibly powerful, but they aren’t always relatable. Instead we should be telling the stories of how football, and sport generally, has impacted the day-to-day lives of normal young girls. How it can build their confidence and enrich their social lives. How it has given them the tools to succeed academically. But most importantly, how their parents supported them through this process and encouraged them to play. Because this is a parent’s responsibility.

Which might just be the key.

Parents have a responsibility to encourage their children to be active. They also have a responsibility to change the perceptions of women’s sport with their own children – it should start at home. So let’s encourage them to do it. At the very least, we might make mums and dads think more about the power of sport. At best, we might empower parents to take their daughter to the park to play football, regardless of their ability or previous interest in the sport.

So what is the endgame? Somebody with no interest in sport is impacted by a sporting story. It’s something we tried to achieve when working with SSE on their ‘Dads and Daughters’ series. A football story that is about way more than just football. It’s about family bonding. It’s about overcoming challenges in life. It’s about togetherness, inclusion, equality and being a part of something that can change your life for the better. And it so happens that it couldn’t have happened without two things: dedicated parents and the power of football.

Therefore, the challenge is clear: we must talk to all parents about sport, not just those that are sports fans. And we must engage them with the power sport can have on the everyday lives of their children – regardless of whether or not their daughter might one day be pictured celebrating on the front page of The Guardian.

RWC 2015: A Ground-Breaking Tournament for Synergy

1. The Greatest Shirt Never Seen Artwork

Rugby World Cup 2015 has been standout for Synergy: the brands we've worked with, the campaigns we've helped create and the ground we've broken through our activation. Anyone would be proud to share the work we've done with our clients, with some of our major RWC highlights including... Canterbury.

Canterbury’s RWC business goals were simple: reinforce the brand’s commitment to rugby, and to deliver its most innovative and commercially successful shirt launch. Bringing to life the campaign message of “Committed to the Rose”, we focussed on inspiring consumers to demonstrate their commitment and be rewarded for this in a truly innovative, immersive and participative campaign, which, critically, drove purchase consideration.

We exploited the ‘pre-sale’ window by releasing an exclusive silhouetted image of the shirt, inviting fans to display commitment by purchasing ‘The Greatest Shirt Never Seen’. As an incentive, all fans who signed up had the chance to physically unveil the shirt on launch day (more on that later…). Using Thunderclap, fans were also asked to ‘Click to Commit’, which meant they automatically released images of the new shirt on their social media platforms an hour before the official media reveal.

The digital launch drove over 3,500 sign-ups with a combined reach of 1.9 million.

On top of this, three lucky fans were then surprised with the ultimate test of their commitment to the rose, when given the chance to quite literally ‘launch’ the shirt via a 12,500-foot parachute jump. Following their safe return to terra firma, the fans were greeted by three England players, with the subsequent video content viewed by more than 600,000 people.
Canterbury kept up the momentum post-launch by releasing the ‘Co-ordinates of Commitment’, revealing the locations across the country of crates (also dropped by air) containing Canterbury shirts. If successful with commitment-based social challenges, fans were rewarded with the codes to unlock the crates and get their hands on the lucre.

The 'Committed to the Rose' campaign ran alongside the Brand Roadshow experience. Demonstrating the role Canterbury plays in all levels of rugby, the experience was based on two very different rugby dressing rooms: one from the humble grassroots game, the other the elite level.


Putting Canterbury’s brand at the heart of the experience, fans were able to try on the Training product range and take on the “Diving Try” activity, as well as competing against England’s Sam Burgess in an exclusive “Speed Test”. More than 15,000 rugby fans took part in the experiences, all leaving with photos to share socially and a powerful Canterbury story to tell.Emirates

As one of Rugby World Cup 2015’s Worldwide Partners, one of Emirates’ key rights was providing the Flag Bearers at all 48 matches. The recruitment of these Flag Bearers focussed on a social media ‘treasure hunt’ at iconic locations across the 11 Host Cities, led by Ben Foden.

Once selected, Flag Bearers were put through their paces with all-weather training at Twickenham, giving them a taste of what might lie ahead. By the time the tournament kicked off, we’d already generated numerous coverage spikes in the national media…with the winners left with the simple task of leading the teams out in front of the world.


Synergy also created a genuinely innovative Emirates activation at the official Fanzones, designed to capture the feelings of excitement of Flag Bearers when coming out on to the pitch.

We created a structure housing 38 cameras (a nod to Emirates’ very own 360 degree camera which is used on board all of its Airbus A380 flights) that took a 360-degree, Matrix-style shot of fans’ RWC excitement. By stitching these images together, a short GIF animation was created which they could share socially from the Fanzones in both Richmond and Trafalgar Square.

Emirates Rugby World Cup Chiya Louie


Over 10,000 people took part, sharing their GIFs and generating 350,000 organic impressions across social media. Of those who participated, 80% said they were more likely to fly with Emirates as a result, making it not just an innovative activation, but an effective one too.

In addition, Emirates wanted to be part of the fan experience at all 13 stadiums and across social media. As part of the wider ‘Bringing Rugby Home’ brand campaign, Emirates engaged rugby fans from all nations with the #BringingRugbyHome promotion. Anyone posing for a photo with the Emirates cabin crew were entered into a draw to win a holiday to Dubai, which delivered over 1,500 entries and more than 1.5 million organic page views.




Coca-Cola’s RWC 2015 journey began back in 2013 when Synergy undertook a review of the GB sponsorship landscape. Given the brand’s heritage with the competition – a commercial partner of every Rugby World Cup since 1995 – Coca-Cola were always going to have a crucial role to play at the event. Synergy’s role was paramount in the internal sell-in of the business opportunity, and supporting the subsequent contract negotiations to ensure a rights package that would be appropriate for the intended activation approach.

Once the contract was signed, our work began supporting the operational and brand planning required to leverage Coca-Cola’s Rugby World Cup sponsorship throughout the business. This included managing the day-to-day relationship with Rugby World Cup Ltd and its commercial partner, IMG. Our role mainly focussed on strategic support and operational logistics, including the management of product provision for all participating teams and venues, with over 250,000 litres of product despatched to over 70 different delivery venues. Synergy also ensured Powerade’s field of play presence was world-class, providing teams a staggering 2,600 sipper bottles, 414 bottle carriers, and 90 eskies.

South Africa v Scotland - Group B: Rugby World Cup 2015

The Synergy team also managed Coca-Cola’s Rugby World Cup approvals process, optimising its use of RWC IP and helping to catalyse campaigns such as its biggest ever rugby on-pack promotion (‘Win A Ball’), Glaceau Smartwater’s #6WordSummaries, and social media match ball competitions. We also compiled a comprehensive review of the RWC sponsorship landscape, in the months preceding and during the tournament, giving Coca-Cola an in-depth look at all RWC-focussed brand activity.

During the tournament itself we adopted an on-site support role, which saw the team visit all 13 stadiums and over 60% of matches, ensuring Coca-Cola’s look of success was adhered to and its commercial rights were fully protected.


In a Tournament dominated by advertising spend, in-stadia activity and merchant partnerships, many will quite simply overlook the role and importance of PR. Fortunately, we don’t. Our aim was simple, we wanted to create iconic and engaging content for MasterCard that would not only live editorially, but would shape the brand’s activity throughout the campaign. For us, that started back in April 2014 when we created arguably the most iconic image of the Tournament. Dan Carter kicking a conversion through Tower Bridge initially generated international media traction and set the tone for our later activity, however, so strong was the PR image, that it has now been carried through the line by MasterCard.



The ‘making of’ footage was seen on the giant screens at Waterloo station, as well as being shown at every match in the 13 match venues. To ensure we had consistency, we created a full set of images starring our other ambassadors, including Johnson, Chabal, Robshaw, Wood and Lomu, which were used on ‘through the line’ campaigns, including direct marketing, online activation and even in the official RWC shops.


As sponsors of ITV’s Rugby World Cup broadcast, SSE had the perfect platform to increase brand awareness and reach fans watching games in the comfort of their own homes. It was our challenge to activate the broadcast rights in a way which encouraged fans to sign up for SSE Reward through the creative  ‘Sounds of Victory’ campaign.


Synergy launched #SoundsofVictory with a world first – developing specially engineered, custom-made sound bottles, which used state-of-the-art technology to capture the atmosphere from key moments in rugby history. A bottle was created for each of the home nations and on removal of the lid, the sounds played out to allow the listener to re-live a famous moment in that nation’s rugby history. The bottles were displayed at a pop-up shop in central London with special guests, Neil Back MBE (England), Ryan Jones (Wales), Stephen Ferris (Ireland) and Hugo Southwell (Scotland).  This innovative stunt created over 80 pieces of coverage across the home nations.


In true Synergy style, we were keen to react to any opportunities that emerged within the tournament and we didn’t have to wait long. It was made apparent that the All Blacks were kept awake at night by people partying in the streets of Cardiff.  SSE were quick to swoop in and make a delivery of #SoundsofVictory ear plugs to their hotel! Resulting in increased awareness of SSE’s affiliation with the tournament and smiling fans.

SSE Sounds of Victory earplugs

SSE also became the Official Presenting Partner of the film Building Jerusalem, a film that told the story of England’s greatest ever Rugby World Cup triumph in 2003. We used SSE’s affiliation with ‘Building Jerusalem’ as a newshook to promote and drive signups to the SSE Reward programme.  We did this by sharing the story of Building Jerusalem through the eyes of our ambassadors: Matt Dawson and Jason Leonard. Taking inspiration from Gogglebox, we filmed their reactions as they re-lived their experience of the tournament, capturing compelling content which was shared with national and online media. The campaign generated 21 pieces of coverage that included SSE Reward messaging in outlets such as Mail Online, Press Association and Daily Express and the video has achieved 125,965 views to date.





Create an “Active Healthy Lifestyle” programme that builds trust amongst stakeholders and consumers, and which tangibly demonstrates Coca-Cola Great Britain’s commitment to getting 1m people more active, more often, by 2020.



As opposed to thinking what type of activity we wanted people to participate in, we started from where we wanted them to be active. Parks immediately came to mind as vibrant ecosystems of activity. In turn, they’re open to anyone, easy to access, free to use, focal points for local communities, and have proven physical and mental health benefits to anyone who uses them.

Having identified parks as the place to deliver activity, we then needed to decide on the how and what. Having considered and rejected numerous traditional delivery models, we boldly decided the best way to drive activity in parks was through an innovative private-public partnership model with major local authorities. We initially targeted 3 local authorities based upon the size of their population, the levels of inactivity amongst said population, and their potential strategic value to Coca-Cola Great Britain.

Our approach was simple. Coca-Cola Great Britain would fund local authorities to deliver a multitude of structured daily activity sessions in their parks, specifically tailored to the needs of the local communities, but with a significant focus on mums and teens. The only mandatories were that the programme had to be delivered for a minimum 6 months of the year, and the offer would always remain free of charge to the public. In turn, Coca-Cola Great Britain would lead the marketing of the programme (fun not physical activity) as well as create an evaluation framework which measured both participation numbers and the wider impact of the programme.


In only two years we’ve created session capacity of over 250k across 6 local authorities, recorded over 100k attendances, of which 50k were unique, delivered through over 25 different types of physical activity (from Archery to Zumba).

ParkLives has opened up numerous conversations with a wide range of GB stakeholders, and increases in trust amongst mums and teens aware of the ParkLives programme are some of the highest seen by Coca-Cola Great Britain.

As of 2016, we are working with 10 local authorities and Street Games to deliver ParkLives sessions across the country. We will continue to grow the programme year on year, continuously looking for new and innovative ways to help Coca-Cola Great Britain get 1m people more active, more often, by 2020.