Why #RBGF just works

David Wilding, our Head of Planning, on a campaign that has caught his attention this week:

We Don't Care Which Team

I’m not as regular a poster on here as I’d like to be but this week has seen the launch of a campaign I’m so full of admiration for that I thought I’d write a few words about it. The campaign in question is the ‘rainbow laces’ campaign for Stonewall, supported by Paddy Power. They’ve sent rainbow coloured laces to all 134 professional football clubs in the UK and asked their players to wear them in their games this weekend to show solidarity in kicking homophobia out of football as players and clubs show that they’re “right behind gay footballers” (#RBGF).

Leaving aside how astonishing it is that we need to even be having this discussion in 2013 I think it’s a fantastic idea on many levels. But rather than focus on why the cause is such a strong one I thought I’d write a bit about the ‘idea’ itself and the communications strategy around it and why I think it could be a really useful template we can all learn from. This is a bit of a list I’m afraid but in no particular order, here are just some of the things that make it work so well…

1.      It’s an idea, not an ad.

Ah yes, that eternal favourite and without wishing to open that particular can of worms, it shows how executing around an idea or something you are doing (sending rainbow laces to footballers) is usually so much richer than doing it around an ad. Stonewall and Paddy Power could quite easily have bought a series of ads but it’s the idea – the tangible thing – that gives this real momentum.  And yes ads come from that idea too but so does so much more.

Laced Boot

2.      It’s simple (and it will be obvious if it works)

It’s a really, really simple idea. You’re a professional footballer. You get sent laces. Your wear them this weekend. And it will be really obvious if it’s worked or not. Perfect.  More ideas should be like that. Low friction and really easy to do.

3.      It gets to the very heart of the problem. And understands that behaviour trumps attitude.

Stonewall believe that it’s the culture within football – both from players and supporters – that stops gay players from being open about their sexuality. But every single player who wears rainbow laces this weekend is making a statement that says it’s no big deal. By effectively ‘badging’ themselves in this way (or lacing if you like) every player is saying not only that being gay is no big deal but they actively support gay footballers – making it theoretically much easier for gay players to be open about their sexuality.

4.      It understands the psyche and behaviour of the people it is trying to influence

The modern footballer has a very strong sense of his own individual brand and many love to bring flashes of their own personality to a uniform team kit. So tattoos, sharp haircuts and coloured boots are all the rage (I’m sounding like my Dad now I know). Rainbow laces are therefore yet another way to allow players to express themselves. After all they’ve all got to wear laces so they might as well wear rainbow ones.

5.      It makes a fuss without making a fuss

In fact it’s a brilliant example of social proof in action. They’ve created lots of noise around the idea and the laces themselves to highlight the point. But the behaviour they’re asking people to do is comparatively tiny in practical terms (it’s only a pair of laces, why on earth wouldn’t you?) to the extent that it’s incredibly easy to get involved and – importantly – quite difficult to justify not doing so.

And by making it date-specific (wear the laces this weekend) and highlighting the people who have pledged to do so, it creates a strong sense that everyone is or will be getting involved at the same time. Effectively what the idea is about is normalisation at scale.


 6. It’s the right kind of participative

By which I mean it’s easy and light touch and has its own motivation and sense of momentum. As I’ve mentioned, it’s perfect for the players themselves but it also allows (but doesn’t rely on) supporters of each team to do their own bit and tweet or message their club directly to ask them if they’re getting involved. More momentum, more social proof.

7. It’s a brilliant brand collaboration

It’s so unusual to see 2 separate brands coming together for one single cause which is what Stonewall and Paddy Power have done but the respective strengths of the brands make this the perfect collaboration. There has been some criticism of the tone of the campaign with some feeling that “right behind gay footballers” reinforces negative innuendo. On balance I disagree. I think it’s excellent copywriting. It reflects Paddy Power’s tone of voice and is intended with good humour to make the idea stand out more.  I also really like the “what are the odds on no football player being gay” angle that Paddy Power can bring to the campaign as a bookmaker. I can’t remember the odds but I remember thinking they were quite long…

8.      It’s superbly integrated

#RBGF seemed to come from nowhere to being everywhere almost overnight. And while we all bleat on endlessly about paid, owned and earned media it’s a brilliant case study in how everything works together. From Metro ads all week through to promoted trends on Twitter on launch day, the use of Joey Barton as campaign frontman through to all the effort that Paddy Power, Stonewall and Lucky Generals have put into supporting their campaign all week it truly has been a highly impressive effort which each part gaining more energy from another. Success has been celebrated along the way – Metro today talks about how Gary Lineker will be wearing rainbow laces on Match of the Day this week after a pledge he made on Twitter yesterday – and the whole campaign is agile and real-time enough to react to the conversation it is rightly creating.

A good way to evaluate someone else’s work can be just to ask yourself whether you wish you’d done it yourself.  In this case it’s a resounding yes.

Congratulations and best wishes to all involved.


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