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FIFA and Unilever: powering brands and women’s football

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The final whistle may have blown on FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™, but our Personal Care brands’ sponsorship of FIFA is just getting started with more still to come. Discover four ways it’s proving to be a win–win for attracting women to the sport and engagement for our brands.

 Women football players showing their medals – Unilever’s partnership with FIFA aims to power brands and women’s football

This year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup™ was a landmark for women’s football, with over 1.9 million fans attending matches across the tournament’s 64 matches.

The tournament also kick-started our Unilever Personal Care brands’ – including Rexona, Dove, LUX and Lifebuoy – sponsorship of FIFA, a partnership deal which will run through to 2027 and include the FIFA World Cup 2026, FIFA Women’s World Cup 2027 and FIFA eSports.

The partnership also marks the first time that FIFA has teamed up with Personal Care brands across women’s, men’s, and FIFA eSports.

Here are four ways the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ is proving to be a win–win for the beautiful game and Unilever’s personal care brands.

1. Making the most of unmatched global exposure

The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ England Squad. Tournament viewing figures exceeded 2 billion, a remarkable brand opportunity

Global viewing figures for this year’s event exceeded 2 billion, up from 1.12 billion in 2019.

“In recent years, women’s football has undergone a remarkable transformation as a brand opportunity,” says Samir Singh, Global Chief Marketing Officer at Unilever Personal Care. “Once overlooked, it now spearheads cultural change.”

What’s more, FIFA has huge global scale. This year’s tournament was the first to be held in the Southern Hemisphere. It included eight new teams, including Morocco’s Atlas Lionesses who were the first team to qualify from the Arab world, bringing the total number of competing nations to 32.

In Australia, which co-hosted the event with New Zealand, sales of the Matildas’ team kit outstripped those of the men’s team for the first time ever. The Matildas’ match against England became the most watched television programme of all time, sport or otherwise, reaching 11.5+ million viewers (over 40% of Australia’s population).

“If we want to drive systemic change, then collaborating with an entity of FIFA’s scale enables us both to move forward faster,” adds Rexona Global Brand Lead, Kathryn Swallow.

Personal Care’s global marketing teams set about creating content and campaigns to disrupt and be unmissable, with sponsorship content and visuals on online channels, in retail outlets, across continents and in every major football-playing country.

“The whole point is that you don’t use sponsorship as something on the outside, as a mere badge, but have it at the core of brands, in innovation, advertising and the mission,” Samir told leading marketing industry title The Drum.

2. Leveraging digital engagement: TikTok, influencer content and Roblox

Image of player avatars in FIFA World X Roblox’s Rexona Obby. This created player and brand conversations in digital spaces

Going where your customers are is a marketing truism, and fans of women’s football are on social channels, especially TikTok.

According to Marketing Dive TikTok Newsroom posts with the hashtag #WomensFootball have garnered more than 3.7 billion video views to date. The hashtags #FIFAWorldCup, #FIFAWomensWorldCup and #FIFAWWC have received more than 38.2 billion combined views on the platform... and counting.

Maximising this unique opportunity to connect our brands to a highly engaged audience saw Unilever, FIFA and TikTok join forces to create experiences that would enrich the game for fans and inspire the next generation of girls looking to join the No.1 confidence-building sport.

Throughout the tournament, TikTok, FIFA and Unilever Personal Care brands including Rexona (aka Degree, Sure and Shield) and Dove shared behind-the-scenes moments, team arrivals, live pre-match content player and coach reactions.

World Cup winner Heather O’Reilly from the US joined Rexona at the Sydney Football Stadium with football stars Lia Lewis (UK) and Raquel Freestyle (Brazil) who went head-to-head in fun football challenges that they shared on their social channels.

In the gaming space, FIFA World X Roblox launched Rexona Obby. Player ambassadors including Trinity Rodman, Lauren James and Melanie Leupolz were turned into digital avatars so fans could interact with them in social spaces as well as earn rewards and digital collectibles.

In Brazil, cutting-edge AI technology was used to develop a football sticker album of the future, with young players from Rexona’s Breaking the Limits football academy pictured as future players in the national team.

“We used one of the football elements that ignites people’s imagination the most: the sticker album. Utilising AI helped inspire not only the girls in our Breaking Limits programme but also all Brazilian girls to dream about the future,” says Poliana Sousa, Personal Care Lead in Brazil.

Utilising AI helped inspire not only the girls in our Breaking Limits programme but also all Brazilian girls to dream about the future

Poliana Sousa, Personal Care Lead in Brazil

“Digital allowed us to find our own voice and role in the tournament, and continues to do so in ongoing conversations,” says Rexona’s Kathryn Swallow.

“It’s not one-way traffic where we’re just on transmit mode. We’re joining conversations which actually allow us to learn and have a dialogue with consumers,” she says.

In that last 30 days, the hashtag #Rexona was used on social 55 million times. The third most popular country for its usage was the tournament’s co-host, Australia.

“We specifically measure how this FIFA affiliation will change how consumers feel about the brand. There’s also reach and the amount of earned media we get back,” Kathryn explains.

These rich engagement figures show how well brand content connected Rexona with the passion and enthusiasm surrounding the women’s game and the event.

3. Tailoring localised campaigns to maximise impact

The FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ also provided Unilever with the opportunity to look at strategic market penetration across the 32 countries that had teams competing in the event.

Unilever marketing teams worked to create tailored market-specific campaigns that looked to resonate with local audiences, foster loyalty and expand market reach.

As well as being a significant opportunity for our brands to engage a growing audience of women’s football fans and build brand power, campaigns also looked to promote gender equality in sports.

During the tournament, LUX’s Middle East team created player content with the Saudi women’s football champion Farah Jefry, who showcased her skills in a short film to kick stereotyped messaging about women’s football into touch.

The film got more than 580,000 views and 11 million likes on TikTok, more than 2 million views on YouTube and over 2,500 comments on Instagram.

These campaign assets were supported by a retail activation in one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest shopping malls where Egyptian actress and former Olympic swimmer, Yasmine Sabri, gave a talk about role models. Women in the audience were also offered the chance to try the sport by kicking a ball at real-life tweets that contained harmful stereotypes of the women’s game.

4. Driving purpose + performance

Beyond the spotlight of the tournament, the goal of Unilever’s collaboration with FIFA is about “seamlessly weaving FIFA into the fabric of our brand’s DNA,” Samir told PRWeek.

“Six in ten girls feel disconnected from football. Our brands possess the potential to inspire these girls, fostering confidence and inclusivity,” he says.

To do this, the authentic alignment of purpose with performance is key, with each brand having a unique role it will play to get girls to play.

With its mission to give more girls the opportunity to play football, Rexona has been working with US player Christen Press. Rexona launched a ‘Change the Field’ programme to encourage more girls of colour to play soccer.

It’s also created a set of ‘Girls Can’ training modules that equip coaches and teachers with the skills to ensure equal opportunities in football which are available for girls to access in countries including Brazil, UK, US, Argentina, Australia and Mexico, with further expansion in the pipeline.

Dove, which is well known for its work in championing body positivity, will look to empower girls to excel on the field.

Lifebuoy is working to engage youth teams in rural communities and to ensure that young girls don’t miss a single day of practice.

And through its indulgent beauty and bath products, LUX powers women with the strength to express their femininity without fear of everyday sexist judgements.

The work of each of these Personal Care brands during the tournament has provided a winning start in driving more interest in the women’s game.

“What our teams and brands have achieved in only 90 days from signing the sponsorship deal to the start of the tournament is incredible. We are already seeing the positive impact our brands can have on young people and society, as well as benefiting our business overall,” says Fabian Garcia, President of Personal Care.

We are already seeing the positive impact our brands can have on young people and society, as well as benefiting our business overall

Fabian Garcia, President of Personal Care

“There is a lot more we can achieve over the next five years. To quote Rexona’s tagline from the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ campaigns, we’re #JustWarmingUp.”

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