In 2014 the world is going sports mad. Still buzzing off the back of London 2012, the recent Winter Olympics and fast approaching FIFA World Cup are fuelling the fire, and advertisers are taking advantage.


With sports coverage so active in media, athlete endorsement is a classic avenue for developing brand identity and selling products. Everyone, from Santander to Samsung, is spending millions upon millions to have their name associated with a sporting hero.


Ten years ago, researchers Boyd and Shank looked into gender differences in perceptions in sports endorsements. They found that the most effective advertisements involved male athletes selling sport products to a male target audience. And to this day the pattern remains and the payoff is outstanding. According to Forbes list of the highest paid athletes, Roger Federer makes 6.5 million USD through salary/winnings, but 10 times that amount through endorsements. So, how about women? Brainstorm “female sport star endorsements” and I think you’d struggle to think of more than five (at a push).


My inner feminist is outraged at this realisation that females athletes are underappreciated by advertisers, until I fit in a little extra research and start to think about things from a marketing perspective.


A recent report by Antil and Robinson talked about why females don’t actually want to be sold to by female athletes. Part of the argument lies in the fact that female sports doesn’t make such an impact in media as male sports, and thus the audience is less familiar with female sport stars. Antil and Robinson go on to argue the controversial point that female sports endorsements are less successful due to the fact that women are, in fact, jealous of athletes and thus don’t respond positively to their portrayal in advertising.


It’s no secret that female sport stars tend to be sexified in advertising, and the intimidating beauty, it is argued, alienates women as opposed to inspires them. The super-human powers of female athletes appear unrelatable to a female audience which is off-putting according to research. Males, on the otherhand, are drawn to the invincibility of sportsmen. This may explain why singer, Jessie J is currently pushing the Nike label (alongside male footballer, Gerard Pique) instead of stars of the sporting world such as Olympic gold medalist, Jessica Ennis.


So perhaps it’s not a case of sexism in advertising that sees female athletes avoided in sports endorsement, but just tactical marketing? Our media planning team appreciates the importance of effectively targeting the desired audience, the key being packaging the message in a way the audience wants to receive it. Speak to the people in a voice they want to hear.


I predict however, that with the recent surge of interest in fitness and health in both genders, female athletes will gain familiarity and likeability in media. And, hopefully, in turn, will start to receive sport endorsement deals matching those of males sportsmen (who, might I add, are often relatively less successful in their field).


By Angharad Edwards