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Advertisers overlook female World Cup fans

Record numbers of women are watching the World Cup soccer tournament, but advertisers have overlooked the trend and almost exclusively pitched male-skewed brands.
Some female England fans celebrate a David Beckham goal in a London Bar. For a recent match, 47 percent of English viewers were female.
Some female England fans celebrate a David Beckham goal in a London Bar. For a recent match, 47 percent of English viewers were female.Tom Hevezi / AP file
/ Source: Reuters

Record numbers of women are watching the World Cup soccer tournament, but advertisers have overlooked the trend and almost exclusively pitched male-skewed brands using familiar methods.

"It's a new phenomenon, which has been undervalued and underestimated," said Maurice Levy, chief executive of Publicis Groupe, the world's fourth-largest advertising and marketing services conglomerate.

"We've certainly missed an opportunity."

Television viewership data from around the world provided to Reuters shows that 39 percent of the tournament's audience so far has been female. That is the same percentage as for the entire 2002 World Cup, and by the time a champion is crowned in July, the figures are expected to be higher.

"We haven't even played the matches yet where the female share of viewing is likely to be the highest," said Kevin Alavy, the analyst for media-buying firm Initiative who compiled the TV data, explaining that more women tend to watch the later matches that determine the eventual winner.

"By the end of the tournament, the female share will be well in excess of 39 percent," he said.

Nevertheless, the bulk of World Cup advertising has centred on traditionally male consumer goods like beer, cars and electronics, and featured bawdy humour, men playing soccer, and bikini-clad women.

More than $1 billion will be spent on advertising during the tournament, analysts have estimated.

Even those ads that have targeted women during the World Cup have appealed to them as sufferers rather than fans.

Low-cost airline easyJet promoted female-only getaways during the tournament, while the Swiss tourism board tried the lure of strapping young men with more than soccer on their minds.

"Dear girls, why not escape during this summer's World Cup to a country where men spend less time on football and more time on you?" the commercial beckoned.

"Have we really thought through how to connect to an audience of women who clearly have a big passion for something?" wondered Richard Pinder, ad agency Leo Burnett's president of the Europe, Middle East and Africa region.

"It certainly appears there was a chance to break through and recognise who the real audience is," he added. "I think it's really something we have to look at for the next World Cup."

Some advertising executives said it wasn't cost effective to reach women during the tournament, with skyrocketing sponsorship deals and escalating TV ad rates. Others noted that women tended to be more casual watchers than men, making it harder to get their attention during a broadcast.

German sporting goods maker Adidas, one of the World Cup sponsors, said that although it produced female apparel for the men's tournament, it was saving its main female-targeted advertising for the women's tournament.

"It's the male World Cup, not the female one, therefore messaging is obviously more male-driven," said Uli Becker, the company's head of global brand marketing. "At next year's women's World Cup in China, we'll have our answers to women's football.

"Have we missed anything by not targeting more towards mom sitting in the room, or the daughter? No. It's a family activity, and we are actually talking family. I don't think we've missed anything," Becker added.

Female audiences have grown across the globe, in big markets and small, including the United States, Brazil, England and Korea, which had a female majority of 51 percent watching the country's match against Togo.

Croatia has seen the biggest gains in female fans since 2002, jumping to a 42 percent share from 20 percent, according to the data from Initiative, which is owned by Interpublic Group , the world's third-largest advertising conglomerate.

Of the 14.4 million Britons watching England's match against Sweden, 47 percent were women, the highest for any of its matches in the last three World Cups.

"As England progress into the knockout stages of the 2006 World Cup and overall levels of interest continue to rise," Initiative said, "the female viewing share is likely to keep on rising."