Football advertisement and sex: Are we breaking new ground?

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By Changwe Kabwe 
Borderline offensive or outright attractive?That is a question that has occupied the minds of many social media users in Zambia since images of scantily dressed model like females clad in new football kits for some Zambian Super League sides were released.

Fortress Media has bombarded our social media platforms with these images (that are sometimes hard to ignore) in a sex-tinged marketing campaign to promote selected football teams as the FAZ Super League readies to kick off on March 17th.

If the objective was to draw public attention to the ladies, then surely that has been achieved but if the real objective was to increase traffic on match days, the jury is still out.

What however is certain is that using sex to push a certain products or services in the market place is an old age practice that has been used with varying levels of success.

In marketing terms, what these clubs are using is called a Sexual Appeal Strategy to market their clubs. This strategy sometimes involves the use of cheerleaders or bodybuilders. Hello David Beckham and his sex ads?

The truth is that there is particularly nothing new about advertisement that plays on gender stereotypes. Many ads have a sexist and sometimes offensive tone or content. Remember sex sells or does it?

According to John Wirtz, an advertising professor at the University of Illinois, combined data from 78 studies that examined the efficacy of sex appeal in adverts found that participants weren’t any more likely to remember a brand name or purchase a product because of raunchy billboards and infact they were more likely to view the brand negatively.

Writing in the International Journal of Advertising, Prof. Wirtz said: “We found literally zero effect on participants’ intention to buy products in ads with a sexual appeal.”

Does this then go to show why after 63 years of publishing nude photos, the iconic Playboy magazine in March 2016 announced a nude free edition with a PG-13 rating and a safe-for-work Playboy Now app?  Does this also explain why American retailer Abercrombie stopped using shirtless models in its ads and why Axe deodorant has ditched sexual messaging in favour of positive messages of male self-acceptance?

The other key element to note is that as much as the football fraternity in Zambia wants to continue fishing for fans, creatively or conventionally, it is important to do so within acceptable social norms, after all, culture has always defined the rules for what is acceptable and what gets attention and what doesn’t.

A huge plus in this controversial Fortress Soccer Series campaign is the realisation (knowingly or unknowingly) that the use of females may endear the clubs to a potentially huge female market.

The idea that sport is a man’s world today could be said to be as outdated as the stereotype that a woman’s place is in the kitchen. Sport has always led the way in challenging long established gender roles. Zambian football clubs should therefore seize the buzz that the campaign has created to tap into the huge economic opportunity that female fans could present.

Behavioural insights agency, Canvas8 correctly predicted in its report entitled The Future Sports Fan that female fans will become equal to male fans, which seems a credible forecast, given that more Americans watched the Women’s World Cup final in 2015 than the NBA Finals or the Stanley Cup.

It is however important not to pay a blind eye to the possible risks that clubs that are using sex to promote their clubs are running. There is a huge risk of the target audience perceiving the product (the club) in a negative light.

Let us also not forget that some of these clubs are sponsored by leading corporate organisations who have invested heavily in brand management over the years and therefore they should worry about being associated with clubs that use sex appeal because if the spectator gets irritated by a sex ad, there is a risk that the irritation could be extended to the sponsor’s products or services.

It becomes even more complicated if your club is Nkwazi or any of the clubs sponsored by the defence wings. Reports are already indicating that Kasamba Nachibanga Mushimbwa, the female cop who posed in the latest Nkwazi football club kit might have gotten into trouble with the High Command over her picture.

There is always a thin line that clubs need to cautiously tread.

Another golden rule in advertising worth noting is that as much as you would want to use sex to sell, please ensure that your sex is strategic. The world has seen already too many brands lamentably fail to inject sex into campaigns that have nothing to do with the product being sold.

The other critical element is that from a communications point of view, football clubs ought to understand the sophistication of the modern day consumer. Football clubs as brands should understand that consumers today want personal connection to a product as much as they do sex appeal.

The use of anonymous models with sex bodies is not going to grab the attention of this generation which is so accustomed to knowing every detail of the lives of celebrities they follow such as Kim Kardashian, in short, tapping into a new legion of fans using social media will demand that you do more than just using sex models. Football clubs looking to sell through seductive content are advised to use people that can command an audience’s attention way beyond sexed up images (Iris-anyone)?

So whether the Fortress Soccer Series becomes a viral marketing strategy or not, the bigger question should be whether the campaign will help fill up the match venues for Nkana, Power, Warriors, NAPSA and indeed Nkwazi? I guess we will have to wait for kick off to find out.

The author is an expert in media, communications and advertising with several years of practice. He is based in Lusaka, Zambia.

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