Pantene helps to turn an insult into a symbol of strength for girls to stay in sports

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Pantene helps to turn an insult into a symbol of strength for girls to stay in sports

The Background

Sportswomen are getting plenty of airtime right now, thanks to Wimbledon and the women’s FIFA World Cup. 

This will, hopefully, encourage more girls to stay in sport, because we have a problem.

According to the organisation UK Coaching, there is a distinct drop-off in girls taking part in sports, particularly at the age of 14, a trend that was first identified in 1957, so really times should have changed. 

UK Coaching's Children, Schools & Safeguarding Lead David Turner writes: “To enjoy sport and remain active, and hopefully successful, I believe that girls (and boys for that matter) need to be confident physically and socially to participate in sport.” 

According to organisation Fast and Female the third biggest reason girls drop out of sport is social stigma.

The Big Idea

Haircare brand Pantene has built a campaign that gets right to the heart of the problem and turns it around. 

Girls should never feel that sports are best left to the boys, and this campaign focuses on the Malaysian insult “Wanita Besi” which means “Iron Lady” and is used as a way to make a girl feel that she is unfeminine if she is strong. 

What They Did

Pantene launched a series of films with national Malaysian sports heroes, who had been bullied about their dreams when they were young.

They now claim the term “#WanitaBesi” as a symbol of female achievement, rather than as a negative symbol. 

Wristbands that doubled as a hair tie, with WanitaBesi embroidered on it, were given out. 

Sportswomen and other women in the public eye were seen wearing these bands, creating a new meaning to the term, so that Wanita Besi now stands for strong, confident and proud.

The Wanita Besi campaign was produced in collaboration with ad agency Grey Group Malaysia and directors Think Tank. 

In celebration of International Women’s Day, customers who bought any Pantene hair product would get a golden ribbon that gave free access to Fitness First and Celebrity Fitness.

The Review

I love the films.

They are not flashy, they just show real Malaysian sporting heroes speaking about their experience and being inspirational, as great athletes always are (pass me my running shoes!). 

In this film gymnast Farah Ann speaks about the pain and hard work it took to get to the top, and how she was hurt by insults when she was young. 

She describes how she turned her fears into strengths and never gave up. 

That’s it, I am going to keep running! No matter how much people laugh at me! No matter how many 80-year-olds overtake me, sneering at me as they pass…

Okay, the idea of turning an insult into a term of encouragement is not new. 

This brilliant film for female hygiene brand Always in 2014 does exactly the same thing turning the term ‘Like a Girl’ into a good thing rather than a rubbish thing. 

One day I hope to turn the phrase “Run like a middle-aged mum” into a term of praise too! Although no one, let me assure you, is ever going to want to “run like a Daney”.

In Hindsight

A heart-warming campaign that got results, how can you knock anything that takes away a bully’s weapon, a mean phrase, and turns it back on them? 

And again, anything that stops girls obsessing about their weight and instead gets them to focus on being strong and fit is a good thing. 

However, I am not sure about the tagline Stay Strong. Stay Beautiful. Stay in Sports. 

Why “Stay Beautiful”? Would this line have been used to encourage boys? 

I think it is outdated and a bit sexist to imply that beauty is important. 

Fitness is important, health is important, achievement is important… what you look like should not be emphasised, women are under enough pressure in that department. Maybe the argument is that as the brand is a beauty product, it kinda makes sense.

But there is one UNFORGIVABLE line in this film. It is: “A girls confidence can drop”, there is no apostrophe! It should be girl’s. 

I simply can’t let that go, so four stars not five.

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