Heading into the 2021 chapter of a worldwide pandemic probably is not the luckiest landscape in which to roll out a rebrand.
But as a challenging season finally ends, why not begin 2021 with new hope, and a fresh look?
And so, the WTA rolled out its “new corporate identity” Wednesday morning.
A design agency called Landor Australia came up with the Tour’s first logo redesign in a decade.
And, in a welcome change that might help more casual fans understand professional tennis, the tournament categories have been renamed to match those of the ATP Tour.
The new marketing campaign is called “For The Game”.
A new logo
Here’s the marketing language on the new logo – or brand image, as they call it:
“The WTA’s new brand image incorporates a dynamic reworking of the familiar letters W, T and A – with a tennis ball functioning as the crossbar of the A – and marks a return to a silhouette of a female tennis player. The serve action pictured in the logo was given prominence for its literal and figurative significance to the WTA.
The serve is the only shot in tennis where the player has absolute control and where the point begins. It also accentuates the fearless initiative taken by the WTA’s early founders who took control of their destiny and blazed a trail for the women of tennis today. The symbol makes subtle references to the sport’s global nature, framing the athlete within a circle that evokes the universal spirit of the WTA’s platform.
“The WTA is built on the grit, passion and determination of generations of athletes and tournament promoters,” said Micky Lawler, President of the WTA and head of marketing initiatives. “Our new logo embraces the visual language of tennis and celebrates heroic women who come together ‘For The Game.’ We will wear it as a badge of pride and a reminder of the power of unity among strong individuals – by joining forces, we build something bigger than ourselves.”
“WTA For The Game”
This will be the theme for the WTA’s new marketing campaign. So here’s the blurb on that.
The ‘WTA For The Game’ campaign will be highlighted by several consumer touch points, including 30- and 60- second commercial spots as well as influencer stories that will be broadcast, published and posted across WTA player, tournament and affiliate channels. To enhance brand synergy while building consistency for tennis fans, tournaments will have access to a range of marketing collateral, with scope to feature a wide array of WTA athletes, to meet their individual promotional needs.”
(Lotta buzzwords in there)
Fans are going to be getting “new insights into the individual narratives of players as they describe the defining moments that have shaped their tennis journey and what gives their game purpose.”
Ad spots pretty spot-on
This 30-second spot is actually really great.
The only off-note is the narration, which is not done not with a neutral accent but an extremely American-sounding one. Given that nine of the top 10 and 17 of the top 20 players on the U.S.-based WTA Tour are not American, it seems a bit limiting – unless you got someone like Serena Williams to do it.
Here’s the 60-second ad.
There’s a lot going on in these 60 seconds. Perhaps the challenge here, for those who aren’t already diehard WTA fans, is that the vast majority of the new fans the tour wants to see it and embrace it will have no idea who the vast majority of these players are.
The Ferry Black font – all caps, too – used in the hashtag and in the campaign is stern – squared off, not particularly warm and not overly married to the logo. But as it gives the WTA Tour’s website a welcome different look (in style if not in user-friendliness), it will be easy to adjust to.
Market individuals, or a collective?
Since time immemorial, tennis – an individual sport – has been built upon star power.
It’s been the Big 3 on the men’s side, or Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova on the women’s side. Even, for a time five years ago, a player like Genie Bouchard attracted huge crossover attention to women’s tennis from places far outside the regular sphere.
This campaign feels as though, in part, the WTA Tour has decided to focus on the collective. It might be a necessity, since none of the current generation has shown an ability to consistently be front and centre at every big tournament.
Some individual feature videos have already been posted up on the website: Iga Swiatek, Madison Keys, Elena Rybakina, Hsieh Su-Wei, Timea Babos and Garbiñe Muguruza.
They are well done, many including vintage photos from when they were little girls.
Time lag means some obsolescence
The footage for most of these features was done at Indian Wells last March, before the cancellation of the tournament and afterwards.
Even 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, who wasn’t playing the tournament (and didn’t play all year), made her way there for the shoot.
But when these features are seen as the 2021 season begins – whenever that is – all of the outfits will be a year old. And, in some cases, the players will already have changed clothing sponsors. And in the case of players who never made it on site to Indian Wells this year, some of the material could be two years old.
The WTA tour already went through that in 2019 when they shot all of emerging superstar Naomi Osaka’s promo stuff at Indian Wells. She was wearing adidas then. Less than a month later, she announced a major deal with Nike.
The quick photo they took of her in generic Nike didn’t fit, stylistically, with the rest of the campaign.
How to break out new stars?
The challenge in 2021 will be to try to build campaigns around individual players. Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin remains obscure outside the women’s tennis bubble. Poland’s Iga Swiatek, who won Roland Garros, is just arriving.
Osaka is being built up as a global star (with the sponsorship portfolio to match). But she didn’t shine early in 2020. And then the tennis world stopped for five months. After that she won the US Open behind closed doors. And then she didn’t play the rest of the year.
World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty has not played since February. Andreescu – posed to be the next breakout star – has not played since Oct. 2019.
And in the challenging business of competing for eyeballs, out of sight for that long is definitely out of mind.
Unsolicited suggestion – more teamwork
What would we like to see, going forward? A little more interaction between the players.
The locker-room atmosphere, overall, appears to be improved from even a few years ago. For the most part.
And there are players who have developed genuine friendships and … have fun together. It would be a great message to send: that a solitary, individual sport can also be a bonding, supportive exercise.
Not to lay it on TOO thick, mind you. No one would buy it. 🙂
But maybe that type of thing is in the plans, as the players eventually get together in one place.
A long time coming, baby
This rebranding – the new logo and nomenclature – had been in the works for awhile.
The original plan was to roll it out at the end of last year.
Perhaps there were plans to bring it out at some point earlier in 2020.
Unfortunately, the pandemic took care of that.
That this extensive new campaign was created at all was a pretty good indication that all of the time and effort spent on the 2019 campaign did not result in the engagement the WTA Tour was looking for.
“It Takes” – the 2019 campaign
It feels like just a few months ago that the previous WTA marketing campaign was announced. In fact, it was the middle of 2019. And even that was not so long ago.
It was called “It Takes ..”
The switch from gradients of fuschia to an all-purple logo looks as though it was actually supposed to happen in 2019. But in the end, we didn’t see it.
The 2019 “It Takes” rollout was originally planned for early in the season. And then, it was to be around the Miami Open – a big tournament in a big American market – with the notion that the ideal length would be two seasons to give it time to penetrate the sporting consciousness.
In the end, it was rolled out in mid-May 2019. There has been less than a year of tennis since then.
“It Takes …” seemed to tick some of the same marketing objective boxes as the new campaign although it didn’t pay tribute to the Original 9, as the new one does.
But it came and and went without a trace. It just didn’t take off, after all that work.
And yet, some of its elements are repeated in the new rebranding.
This ad, with a voiceover by Mary Carillo, was pretty good.
Some of the features – the goal of which was to tell the players’ stories – were somewhat awkward and one-dimensional.
But the idea behind them looks pretty much like what was rolled out Wednesday, about the “individual narratives of the players”.
So you’d have to assume that the goal this time is to make them more compelling. Because the fact that they’re doing it again clearly indicates they feel this is the way forward to gain more purchase for the Tour.
Generating memes – and not nice ones
The other problem with the “It Takes …” tag line was that it led to all sorts of internet memes.
Some of them were funny; some were mean and sometimes disrespectful. But when fans are mocking your campaign almost from the get-go, it’s probably a sign (Source: “The Dark Blue”/TennisForums.com)
The “It Takes … ” campaign added various words onto the main slogan.
There was “It Takes Bravery”, “It Takes Strategy”, “It Takes Vision”, and more.
The graphics for these featured various WTA Players, photographed in black and white, mostly smiling, with the slogan to their left.
The new campaign does almost exactly the same thing. Which is going to make it ripe for the meme treatment again.
“For the Dreams”. “For the Fight”. “For the Glory”
The photos are in colour this time, shaded in a purple-like filter, with the women shot from the side.
Naomi Osaka (“For the Next Generation” looks slightly annoyed.
Qiang Wang (“For the Pride”) looks unrecognizable.
Kiki Bertens “For the Inspiration” looks startled. You can see the first 10 here.
As for the stunning Petra Kvitova, we’re not even sure … what they did to her. The photo they use either looks like the “turn to the side” part of a police mugshot. Or, worse, a photo of the Madame Tussaud’s wax museum version of herself.
Mostly, the women aren’t playing tennis. They don’t look like they’re doing … anything. And they don’t look particularly happy while they’re doing nothing.
This sameness, and those close-up shots, was another criticism of the “It Takes …” campaign. And nothing’s changed.
If it felt as though the return of a woman in the trophy serving position to the logo was going to mark a return to emphasizing the sports side, this part of the campaign did not follow along.
Can a marketing campaign be a game changer?
The WTA has always struggled with how to market its players.
These fantastic, accomplished women are the best in the world at what they do, playing the biggest women’s sport on the planet. That would seem to be sellable. But no one seems to have yet found the right message, or mixture of messages, to truly show them in the best light.
They’ve struggled to decide whether they were going to target a female audience, a male audience, or a sporty audience. And there probably isn’t one approach that will appeal to all three.
Glam … or athletic? The eternal dilemma
If they style and make up the women to the nines to go for “glamour”, they get criticized for objectivizing them and downplaying their athletic side.
If they went in the completely different direction, people would criticize the athletes for looking too … sweaty. It’s a no-win.
The photo shoots that have taken place at Indian Wells the last few years have been an exercise in heavy makeup and styling. Some of the women are barely recognizable.
Perhaps that’s in large part because we’re used to seeing them in their element: sweaty, pony-tail flying, working hard. And given they’re all young, fabulous and fit, many of them actually look better and more at ease in their natural element. No makeup needed.
“Strong is … Beautiful” – 2012
Who can forget the 2012 marketing campaign, with the tag line “Strong is Beautiful?”
The ad featured various celebrities … including current U.S. president Donald Trump. It also included Caroline Wozniacki’s now ex-boyfriend, Rory McIlroy.
Yup. Enough said.
Preaching to the converted
In the end, the strength of the new message will depend on who they can spread it to.
According to the press release, the new campaign will be “broadcast, published and posted across WTA player, tournament and affiliate channels.”
What that sounds like is that it will mostly come before the eyes of those who already are women’s tennis fans.
If you’re scrolling Osaka or Simona Halep’s Instagram feed, or a tournament’s Twitter account, and come across these photos and videos, there’s about a 100 per cent chance that you already love women’s tennis.
The marketing elements will be used by the tournaments themselves for promotion. But the material itself is not materially (pardon the pun) different from what they had to work with, with the previous campaign.
Next-level advertising costly
To truly penetrate the sporting landscape and bring women’s tennis out of what remains a niche following is a challenge. It would require ad placements during the broadcasts of other sports. Or, additionally, during television shows that are targeted towards a female demographic.
But ad buys of that scope are … very expensive.
And with the pandemic having brought significant financial challenges to an organization that already wasn’t excessively healthy, that type of strategy is way out of range.
Now that the WTA has unveiled this, we will have at least a month where there is … no tennis at all going on.
So the key will be to try to sustain the momentum of the rebrand through the off-season and into 2021 – whenever the season does finally start.