This Girl Can

Sport England

Two million fewer women than men were exercising regularly in England, forming a large and stubborn gender gap. Women knew and understood the benefits of exercise, and what’s more, 75% of them aged 14-40 said they want to do more activity. But they weren’t…

Sport England tasked us with getting more women aged 14-40 to exercise regularly. Their aim was simple, but the target audience was broad. The solution needed to elicit mass behaviour change, and needed mass influence.

The Insight

The fear of judgement. Women worried about being judged on their appearance, during and after exercise; on their ability, whether they were a beginner or ‘too good’; or for spending time exercising instead of prioritising their children or studying. 

We needed to liberate women from the judgments that held them back, by replacing their fear with a "don’t give a damn" attitude.

The Idea

This Girl Can is a celebration of the triumph of attitude over society’s judgement. We championed active women across England who were doing their thing no matter how they did it or how they looked.

Overcoming the Judgement Barrier

The premise was simple but effective, and empowered women in two ways. Firstly, it provided positive role models. We street-cast women from across the country with jiggly bits, sweat patches and importantly, a highly aspirational “don’t give a damn” attitude. 

Secondly, it provided women with a strategy for dealing with the judgement they fear: the classic riposte. The art of taking an insult, acknowledging it and throwing it straight back with an added piece of wit.

Starting the Conversation

Whilst the fear of judgement was universally felt by our audience, it was very rarely acknowledged or spoken about. In October 2014, we set out to tell women that they weren’t alone in feeling judged. Empowering content films seeded the conversation, and we proactively responded to tweets about exercise anxiety with encouragement and support. Throughout this phase we created an important and solid base of supporters for the campaign, made up of both influencers and women feeling supported.

Creating Mass Inspiration

Having sparked a conversation, we aimed to inspire on a mass level. A 90 sec film launched on prime time TV in parallel to social seeding of the film. The film went live in Cinema, and OOH and digital executions supported the launch. Within days of the broadcast the campaign trended twice on Twitter, made it into Google’s Hot Trends and Top 12 Trending Searches. We received ten consecutive days of positive news coverage and Wembley even asked if they could host the ad for free. The film was adapted by numerous partners and a Facebook fan even revealed the first ever This Girl Can tattoo. 

Encouraging Self-Identification

To help women to affirm their behaviour change, we encouraged self-identification with exercise in a number of ways. The #ThisGirlCan hashtag was designed to be taken on and owned by our audience from the very beginning, and has racked up over 660,000 mentions to date.

Driven by popular demand from the social community themselves, Sport England partnered with Marks & Spencer to create This Girl Can t-shirts. The first wave of t-shirts launched in June and were so successful that they sold out online in five days, in parallel to being M&S’ highest selling single item.

The App

Finally, we created a user-generated poster app, enabling women to create personalised posters to act as a source of encouragement. Since June we’ve had over 14,000 uploads, a selection of which have been used across social media and in localised digital OOH and PR to inspire others to become active.


partners have downloaded the toolkit. 

Creating Behaviour Change

More than 7.2 million women now play sport and do regular physical activity across the UK. This is 250,000 more than when we launched our campaign. It means the gender gap, which once stood at over two million, has narrowed to 1.55 million. As Jennie Price, Sport England’s CEO, put it “We have shown a carefully targeted, insight-led approach can work with women”.