Scoring with the female fans

The FA's goal is to sell the 1996 European Championship to women. Decca Aitkenhead looks at how the chosen ad agency pitched its campaign
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The Independent Online
The advertising campaign to sell the 1996 European Football Championship to women is costing more than pounds 500,000 - 5 per cent of the championship's advertising budget. This may not seem like a serious attempt to reach a neglected audience, despite research showing that more and more women are attending matches. But let's not forget free PR: in two weeks, the ads have featured in six national newspapers, 20 radio interviews and five television reports, generating pounds 300,000 worth of publicity.

The three ads, running in Elle Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and Options, form the most visible part of agency McCann Erickson's overall Euro 96 campaign, running in the national, regional and football press, as well as men's and children's magazines. As the championships near, it will focus on regions where tickets remain on sale, transferring to radio and, perhaps, TV until all have been sold.

The Client

Jonathon Hill, the Football Association:

"Euro 96 offered us the chance to target potential consumers we might not attract to a typical domestic match. There are audiences out there for the more exotic games between teams such as France and Italy. It's harder to sell the game via matches between small, domestic teams. This was our chance to have a real impact on football culture here. We took it.

"We also knew if we got a bullish creative, it would encourage the debate about women in football. Match attendances are often 20 per cent female now and there are 10,000 registered female football players.

"We planned on running the ads for women only once, but they've been so successful we're considering extending the campaign, probably by turning the ads into posters. We've already had clubs and universities asking for them. "

The Agency

Chris Aldhous, McCann Erickson:

"There was a feature in Cosmopolitan recently: ad agencies were challenged to sell football to women, and they had come up with things such as: 'If you want to diet, come along to a football match', with a picture of a horrible-looking hot dog sold on the terraces.

"We didn't want to do that. We wanted to acknowledge that female fans can be as passionate, and boring, about football as men. There's a woman here who follows her team around Europe - you wouldn't want to be stuck in a lift with her. Other advertisers seem to have thought that the only reason women would go to a match would be to look at Ryan Giggs' thighs.

"We tried to turn around the stereotypes. In one ad you think it's another long-suffering girlfriend saying: 'You'd rather spend next June going to see football than going on holiday?' But underneath, in smaller print, it reads: 'I don't believe it. He said.' In the second, the model asks: 'How can I lie back and think of England, when Venables hasn't finalised the team?' It's the same with the girl fancying Italians - you think she's going to say it's because they've got great legs.

"Humour was the key - especially with the FA's being seen as slightly aloof from the terraces. In the past, you've heard fans complaining that the FA could be stuffy. The FA is breaking that image; the way they film the FA Cup draw is now much more lively. They invite real fans along. The campaign follows on from that. We don't patronise them.

"The client felt very strongly that the models had to be genuine football fans. That was something we believed in. It's important to have that sort of integrity, so when we went to the casting agencies we were specific: we were looking for striking models, but they had to be fans who went to games.

"We discussed using 'real people' with the FA. We even went to Wembley with a photographer for a friendly, to try some reportage shots. But you need a bit of a performance, and a normal person in front of the camera can end up looking blank. We just didn't have the time or the money. We did all the ad shots in just five hours - we could only do that using professionals.

"We didn't need to test them. As soon as they knew it was an ad for the FA, they were all putting forward their ideas about Venables and what he should do.

"It wasn't women at first. The Euro 96 campaign is about finding different voices for the FA. To begin with we did the children's press, the Beano and the Dandy. We talked about football as if it were the latest video game: 'Forget simulation, go for stimulation', '3D European Football. So Realistic it's Real', and 'No accessories needed'.

"Then the FA talked to us about women. We targeted the female ads exclusively at the glamourous style magazines, partly because their readers are most likely to buy tickets, but also because we knew they would get us the most media exposure - as they have.

"These are football fans who happen to be women, and they want to be taken seriously. They care about who should be playing, which team's going to win - that's what the ads are trying to get across."