Sports marketing

Sports marketers are beginning to better represent adaptive athletes

People with disabilities and adapted athletes are still underrepresented in sports marketing. For The Drum’s Sports Marketing Deep Dive, Sofia Ewuraesi Bodger, senior strategist at AnalogFolk Amsterdam, takes a look at which brands are at the forefront of change and how to keep up with them.

While the global sports market has reached a value of $388 billion, Nielsen said only 1% of that was spent on ads featuring adaptive athletes or including disability themes in the creative. Although fashion brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Louis Vuitton are leading the way in including different abilities in the D&I conversation, there are missed opportunities for the inclusion of all ability stories in sports marketing and beyond. of the. Brands and marketers have a responsibility to make this happen.

Both the Paralympic Games and Invictus have been shown to have a positive impact on media coverage of adapted athletes, changing attitudes and neutralizing the coverage gap. But when it comes to brands, there’s little support.

Analogfolk examines how brands can be more athlete-inclusive in campaigns / Nike FlyEase, Why The Design Campaign

The power of story

For a long time, adapted athletes have been overlooked and underrepresented in mainstream media. Progress on improving the representation of people with disabilities in sports has been slow, and when adapted athletes are represented, we continue to see biases and stereotypes.

One of the most common stereotypes is the “supercrip narrative”, which emphasizes triumph over adversity and presents disability as an individual problem that a person must “overcome”. Unless brands create inclusive stories that incorporate themes beyond an athlete’s disability, going beyond the supercrip mythos, the industry will continue to perpetuate prevailing stereotypes.

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As wheelchair fencer Bebe Vio told Nike: “I love being a para-athlete, simply because I love the world I live in, and I love knowing all the stories of all types of athletes.”

Brand storytelling has the potential to be the catalyst for inclusion and representation. “All the stories of all types of athletes” are still waiting to be told.

Tackle that 1%

So how can sports marketing create accessibility and exposure for adaptive athletes? To create a culture of inclusion and increase the abysmal 1% of spending, we must change the approach to today’s media, shift power, and uplift those whose stories have yet to be told. Brands need to find narratives that connect authentically with athlete stories, to collaborate and connect with partners within the community of all abilities and incorporate themes beyond an athlete’s disability. This will speak to them more authentically, to their interests, and will neutralize difference while acknowledging their disability.

A brand acting on this point is Nike. The release of the FlyEase “hands-free” shoes is one of the biggest innovations in the brand’s history, a product that epitomizes “if you have a body, you’re an athlete”. It’s a life-changing innovation for athletes of all levels.

But when FlyEase was first launched, the product immediately sold out to resellers. Co-opted by sneakerheads, FlyEase was difficult to access for those who needed it most, leading to disappointment and negative feelings from the disability community.

Adapting its approach, Nike partnered with adaptive athletes for the following launch of FlyEase with a campaign to educate the sneaker community on the technological benefits of FlyEase. They brought the impact of the product to life in their sporting lives to the wider community of Nike athletes.

At AnalogFolk Amsterdam, we collaborated with Nike on the campaign. Executive Creative Director Carren O’Keefe says, “We wanted to go beyond just saying who FlyEase innovation is for – and actually show it. We’ve taken the iconic ‘Behind the Design’ content series, a favorite of sneakerheads, and cropped it into ‘Why The Design’ to not only show why it’s so innovative, but why it’s designed for adaptive athletes. . Influencing the hypebeasts to NOT buy the shoe and put it on the feet of the people who need it most.

In a widely shared statistic, Coresight Research estimated the potential market value of responsive design at $64.3 billion. Mainstream brands have been slow to embrace adaptive design, but – like Nike – Tommy Hilfiger is leading the way in including different capabilities in the D&I conversation. In 2016 they launched The Tommy Hilfiger Adaptive Collection. It aims to transform the way fashion defines diversity by meeting the needs of people with disabilities.

Source: Tommy Hilfiger, Spring 2021

Source: Tommy Hilfiger, Spring 2021

It’s time for brands to use their collective voice and privileged position as a tool to move the 1% and create the representation and inclusion needed.

The inclusion and representation of all stories is essential. Make diversity and inclusiveness programs the “norm” and not just a “trend”. Authentically embed adaptive stories. Include and integrate them into all v campaigns by singling them out as heroes. Here are four more things your brand can do:

  1. Moving from sidelines to starting lines

    Brands have a responsibility to move from a culture where adaptive athletes are sidelined to an inclusive culture that puts adaptive athletes at the heart. Show fit athletes with other athletes as equals, illustrating their role and value within the sports community.

  2. Ensuring authentic storytelling

    Find multi-dimensional narratives that authentically connect to athlete stories and address roles beyond athletics. Pay close attention to casting choices, authentic storytelling, and camera angles.

  3. Lead with adaptive; represent the double capacity

    There are many types of disabilities, both physical and cognitive. Not all disabilities are visible. From mobility to congenital difference in limbs, make sure all disabilities are represented in the cast.

  4. Remember that it is the responsibility of all marketers to address the imbalance

    It is not the responsibility of persons with disabilities to correct the imbalance of representation. To make a real difference and create inclusion for all marketing abilities, it’s every marketer’s responsibility to create multidimensional stories that are inclusive and representative.

Check out The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, The New Sports Marketing Playbook, and learn the tactics employed by the world’s biggest sports organizations and their star athletes to stay on top of their game.