How we Keep Breaking Barriers with This Girl Can

Last week we were awarded the One Show Fusion Pencil, the advertising and design industry’s first global initiative to recognise outstanding work that incorporates underrepresented groups in the creative work and the team that made it.

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The Fusion Pencil award is so important as we deeply believe that recognising diversity both in front of and behind the camera is a crucial signal to the industry as a whole and this award is a great step forward. We are proud at FCB Inferno that our creative department is equally male:female and the agency as a whole is slightly more female skewed, and we have long supported female talent in our production partners.

This award recognises the true importance of diversity, both within the client team and throughout the work. Diversity is not and should never be a box-ticking exercise, and for us the Fusion Pencil is a demonstration of the true importance of diversity for producing insightful creative which truly breaks category norms. We could not have achieved This Girl Can without the diversity of the agency team and our cast, it enables breakthrough work which resonates with consumers and ultimately commercial success.

‘This Girl Can’ began as a campaign designed to encourage women to exercise, but it has become so much more than that; it has evolved into a platform for female empowerment and in its wake it continues to fundamentally influence how women are marketed to, breaking down the stereotypes of unattainable female bodies formerly portrayed in advertising. Since its inception in 2015, over 3 million more women are exercising as a result of the campaign, across 80 countries worldwide, even though media spend was only in England. The campaign has inspired a social movement with a vocal fan base as the phrase ‘This Girl Can’ has entered the vernacular across society and two women loved the brand so much they got ‘This Girl Can’ tattooed on their bodies!

We began working with Sport England, a UK government body, 7 years ago. Our brief was to close the gender gap in activity levels with almost 2 million fewer women than men regularly exercising, despite the significant investment in gyms and the effects of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Sport England’s own research revealed that 75% of women wanted to do more exercise but something was stopping them. Poring over hundreds of pages of research and conducting numerous focus groups across the country, we learned that there were a myriad of reasons why this was the case. However, we uncovered one overarching barrier which proved to be the killer insight – the fear of judgment. Women were worried about being judged on their appearance, during and after exercise; on their ability, whether they were a beginner or ‘too good’; or for spending time exercising instead of prioritising their children or studying. 

This insight gave us an incredibly clear role for communications - to liberate women from the judgements that hold them back by replacing their fear with a "don’t give a damn" attitude. Instead of a traditional creative brief with proof points that would have resulted in a rational response, we crafted a manifesto for the creative teams to work to because we knew we had to move women emotionally.

 “Women come in all shapes and sizes and all levels of ability.

It doesn’t matter if you’re rubbish or an expert. The point is you’re a woman and you’re doing something”.

 Borne out of this powerful unifying manifesto, ‘This Girl Can’ was created, a brand built from the audience up, championing women across England who were getting active their own way and smashing through their judgment barriers.

 Starring street-cast women from across the country, all with jiggly bits, sweat patches, and importantly, a highly aspiration, ‘don’t give a damn’ attitude. It tore up the rulebook on how women should look getting active, and provided powerful, insight-led mantras for women to take ownership of. On paper, the idea to showcase real women exercising, rather than the perfectionism of fitness that the industry was projecting, doesn’t sound groundbreaking. But we deeply believed that by reflecting women’s real experiences, we could establish a disruptive new norm in the fitness industry and across society as a whole. Our campaign helped women realise they weren’t alone in feeling judged and inspired them to take the plunge and get active.

It was crucial that the campaign remained truly authentic, so it was full of real, everyday, inspirational women, none of whom were actresses or models, with no retouching or photo-shopping. We turned the conventions of sports advertising on its head, avoiding the cliched glistening six-packs that intimidate and put off most women and instead, we celebrated the realities of women exercising. We avoided the male gaze by not focusing on physical stereotypes and instead we created a new aspiration which elevated the “don’t give a damn” attitude to motivate all women.

Getting this right meant that the team behind ‘This Girl Can’ needed to listen intently to our women’s stories, showing empathy and understanding, as well being aware of any unconscious bias so as not to perpetuate stereotypes. As a result, our agency and production teams were predominantly female and never more so than in the latest phase of the campaign in 2020, where we have shifted the narrative to deal with much broader societal issues such as motherhood, menopause and menstruation.

Our belief is that no woman should be left behind, so it was crucial that we were representative of women who tended to be ignored by mainstream media, be that transwomen, women with disabilities, women from lower social demographics and women who are black, Asian and minority ethnic. This required an agency team who could pull on their deeply personal experiences in all these areas. ‘This Girl Can’ tackles topics often regarded by some to be taboo. For example, the latest film features a woman pulling up her leggings and you see a hint of a tampon string. It was filmed sensitively by our female director and female DOP, and was delivered with insights from the agency team who are experiencing menstruation every month! It was so important that scenes such as this, and other scenes such as a mum breastfeeding, felt natural to include.

What began as a campaign to get women exercising has evolved into a platform that champions women’s equality in society. Over 2020, the gender gap in exercise has widened as women’s responsibilities for the majority of childcare have increased and women have been more likely to be furloughed or made redundant. As recognised by the One Show Fusion award today, ‘This Girl Can’ remains as relevant today as ever as we strive to continue breaking down the judements which hold women back. I deeply believe that to keep breaking barriers you need to look at all sides of the coin, in front of and behind the camera. We must ensure diversity across client teams, agencies and throughout the industry if we are to continue genuinely representing and reaching underrepresented groups. Ultimately, how you create the work is just as key as the work you are building, and This Girl Can is a true example of this.

FCB Inferno

FCB Inferno is one of the world’s leading creative agencies and works with a diverse mix of both local and global clients.

We create ideas that drive business today and build brands of tomorrow. Ideas that endure and are Never Finished. At FCB, we believe the best part of a brand’s story is never finished. 

The work we do is both highly commercial and purpose-driven for some of the world’s most iconic brands, including the creation of the acclaimed ‘This Girl Can’ campaign for Sport England. FCB Inferno believes in a real commitment to diversity and inclusion and truly champions this both in way we work with our people and how we work with our clients.

We have been awarded the inaugural One Show Fusion Pencil for diversity and inclusion, and the Good Report’s #1 campaign and network in this year alone.

Our creativity and effectiveness have been recognised at numerous global award shows for solving client’s business problems in innovative ways. This includes multiple Grands Prix at Cannes, D&AD White and Yellow pencils and even a BAFTA nomination.

We are part of the FCB Network with over 8000 employees across 80 countries. FCB was named Global Agency Network of the Year by Adweek 2020 and Network of The Year at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity in 2021.