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Why our football partnerships are a win for unmissable marketing

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Football is the most watched sport in the world and women’s football is on a sharp trajectory. Unilever Personal Care Chief Marketing Officer Nuria Hernández-Crespo shares how we are building brand power, while creating lasting connections through our football sponsorships.

A blonde young woman playing football in a blue kit. Rexona's Breaking Limits Program in action at Chelsea.

Saturday 25 May marked the first UN World Football Day, celebrating the sport’s uniting power of bringing people together.

Unilever Personal Care is the proud sponsor of several football tournaments around the world, including the FIFA World Cup™, UEFA EURO 2024™, CONMEBOL Copa América USA 2024™, and tournaments in the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

As sponsors, our Personal Care brands will proudly share the stage with the world’s finest footballers, reaching millions of fans across the globe.

We caught up with Unilever Personal Care Chief Marketing Officer Nuria Hernández-Crespo to find out what this means for marketing.

Unilever’s Nuria Hernadez-Crespo. Nuria is white with shoulder-length brown hair. She is wearing a white shirt and smiling.
Nuria Hernández-Crespo, Unilever Personal Care Chief Marketing Officer
Nuria, Unilever’s Personal Care brands are Official Sponsors of the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ as part of a multi-year partnership. What business benefits does this bring to Unilever?

Football is the most popular sport in the world with an estimated 4 billion fans worldwide, and women’s football is booming. More than 2 billion people watched the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™, and 2 million attended the matches in person – both record highs.

This inevitably gave our brands a unique opportunity to reach a huge audience. Through our products themselves, the placement on shelf and promotions running in parallel, the tournament enabled us to drive unmissable superiority in 40-plus markets around the world.

But for us, sponsorship is about so much more. It’s about community engagement, and an emotional connection that lasts far beyond a 90-minute game.

I firmly believe our Personal Care brands have a positive role to play. There’s a significant opportunity to demonstrate relevance and build brand power with a vast, highly engaged audience. But we’re going beyond that – promoting gender equality in sports, fostering greater inclusivity for the next generation of athletes and fans, and protecting and enhancing the game we love.

With content generation growing at breakneck speed, and waning attention spans, it’s vital for brands to go beyond a one-sided conversation. We need to be part of a dialogue with consumers. Football – with its incredible ability to transcend boundaries – brings people together in that way.

It was recently announced that Brazil – a country close to my heart – will be the host country for the next FIFA Women’s World Cup 2027™, and the tournament is set to be the biggest of its kind, so I’m excited to take our brands to the next level too.

It’s about community engagement, and an emotional connection that lasts beyond a 90-minute game.

Nuria Hernández-Crespo, Unilever Personal Care Chief Marketing Officer
So how is Unilever Personal Care shaping campaigns that connect with this vast audience?

We’ve learnt that our brand campaigns and activities need to have universal appeal. It’s a mistake to think that ads surrounding women’s football should prioritise women’s products and vice versa with the men’s game.

In the UK alone, there was a 41% increase in the number of men who planned to watch the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™ compared with 2019 – and 45% of viewers for the last FIFA Men’s World Cup were women.

By only targeting campaigns based on who’s on the pitch, you risk ignoring a huge part of your audience.

Unilever has a history of championing inclusion through its brand campaigns. How does this fit with the FIFA partnership?

It’s a very authentic fit. Take one of Unilever’s power brands, Dove, as an example. Its Self-Esteem Project, created with experts in psychology, health, education and body image, will have reached 250 million girls by 2030, helping to increase body confidence and self-esteem among young people. Its new Body Confident Sport programme with Nike focuses on sport, providing scientifically proven coaching tools to help girls feel that sport is a place where they belong.

That sense of belonging is key here. We see the impact football can have on building confidence, yet according to our research, six in ten girls say they feel like they don’t belong on the pitch. Brands have an opportunity and a responsibility to reach millions of girls and inspire them with the confidence to play.

What more is Unilever Personal Care doing to invest in communities and drive engagement in football?

We’re investing in the next generation of talent at a grassroots level. The Breaking Limits programme led by our Rexona brand, also known as Sure or Degree around the world, aims to reach under-served communities and build confidence and participation in sports.

Breaking Limits equips coaches and mentors with the tools and skills to inspire children to play sports. So far it has reached more than 1 million young people aged 9-12, engaged with 11,000 coaches, and collaborated with more than 30 NGO partners.

Read more about Unilever's football sponsorships in this article from The Drum.

We believe brands have an opportunity and a responsibility to reach millions of girls and inspire them with the confidence to play.

Nuria Hernández-Crespo, Unilever Personal Care Chief Marketing Officer

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