Lisa Parfitt of Engine Sport: a tampon string is not a shock tactic to debunk taboos. ‘This Girl Can’ is all about real life.

Since the first campaign launched in 2015, “This Girl Can” has been ahead of the zeitgeist and driven the biggest change ever seen in sports marketing for women. Five years on, the third campaign has cemented “This Girl Can” as more than marketing: it’s a movement.

So, what about that “tampon string” moment? The Observer reported that in research groups, this scene was overwhelmingly supported. Of course it was. Half the population has a period and yet we can’t talk about it. In 2009 at Wimbledon, Jelena Jankovic openly admitted that she had felt unwell, citing ‘women’s problems,’ which got her labelled a ‘drama queen’ by the press. Since then Serena Williams and Heather Watson have also highlighted the challenges of playing with the side effects of menstruation, to greater understanding, but these are professional athletes – what hope is there for normal women?

The scene in the ad with the woman clutching the hot water bottle to her stomach is spot on, and so relatable; we’ve all been there. The issue is that women just aren’t being told enough that exercise will help. Statistically women who don’t exercise are more likely to suffer from the painful side effects. This part of the ad isn’t just a shock tactic, or a moment to debunk taboos, it’s a piece of public information.

Crucially, the campaign uses realistic portrayals of women to promote exercise. The culture of body acceptance is growing, and this is having an impact on both brands and influencers. Victoria’s Secret’s sales are declining because increasingly women don’t respond to the hyper-sexy images of models, while sports brands are catering for different shapes, and there is already a trend for influencers and personal trainers with real body types.

Before the rise of brand activism, Sport England understood that to engender behaviour change required a deep and acute understanding of women, not only our relationship with sport. Women are motivated by relationships and operate in communities rather than hierarchies, which is why the campaign’s true sense of togetherness has generated a movement created by women for women.

Women’s Sport has been in a stage of normalisation with more visibility and greater role models, yet sport’s deep-rooted associations with competition, performance and physique can prove too intimidating for women who need the motivation to move from complete inactivity to first steps.

What this film does is to reframe sport and how it can fit in with different stages of a woman’s life, by showing activities as diverse as women are. Exercise free of judgement.

Lisa Parfitt is managing director of Engine Sport & Brand Experience

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