Categorized | Sports

North Face campaign highlights importance of wage gap in sports

Recently, I was flipping through Time magazine when a cool North Face ad caught my eye. It shows Brazilian endurance runner Fernanda Maciel scaling the side of a mountain. While it always inspires me to see strong female athletes, this ad made me do a double take. Shown in black and white with black and red text, this ad significantly downplays the gendered markers that often overpower ads for women’s sports or sports apparel.

This ad is one of a series in The North Face’s 2018 “Move Mountains” campaign, a global marketing effort to increase visibility of adventurous female role models. The brand is seeking to portray a balance of biologically male and female athletes. Outside of advertisement, the brand is also taking concrete steps to build more female-centered relationships. The crux of the campaign rests on the brand’s partnership with Girl Scouts of America to establish new badges that promote individualized sports like mountaineering, climbing, backpacking, hiking and trail running.

The campaign features several parity-minded goals; for instance, seeking to expand the brand’s products beyond pricey mountain gear and hoping to give women in inner cities access to exploratory sports.

Above all, however, North Face’s decision to ensure the closure of the gender pay gap on its team of athlete models is the most timely. The wage gap is where the competitive and advertising worlds stand to increase gender visibility within their own organizations. Elite endurance runners are actually among the most fairly paid athletes today. SBNation.com reported that Des Linden, who won the Boston marathon a few weeks ago, received the same prize money as her male counterpart, Yuki Kawauchi. However, a survey of top-level endurance runners in the U.S. and Europe (34 women and 33 men) conducted by online trail running magazine iRunFar found that 71 percent of the women make $10,000 or less per year, while 71 percent of the men make over $10,000 per year. In other sports, and at lower levels of competition, the difference is much more significant.

Interestingly, women are the primary consumers of outdoor athletic gear. “Women account for 63 percent of the spending on activewear in the U.S., with huge growth each year,” wrote Stephanie Pearson of Outdoor Magazine. While male athletes receive higher salaries and more travel, podium and gear bonuses, female athletes continue to receive the message that they must “compete” in terms of fashion to stay relevant in athletics.

The North Face is certainly following a business trend of appealing to more empowered generations of women to please its customer base. According to AdAge.com, this is the brand’s largest spring public-relations investment ever. When looking at this product, it is important to consider how it contributes to a sports world that often pushes women into the role of consumers rather than competitors.

However, despite being in it for the money, this brand is trying to put the focus on athletic accomplishment. “For decades we have had women on our team of athletes who have made first ascents and won 100-kilometre races. Who, if not us, knows that there are so many women who master outstanding and inspiring things every day,” said Tom Herbst, global vice president of marketing.

The company is also going the extra mile by creating partnerships with do-good organizations. The brand has established a new $250,000 grant program focused on enabling female exploration. In addition, The North Face’s Explore Fund, founded in 2010, has given $2.75 million to over 500 nonprofit organizations in support of furthering outdoor exploration.

Despite hitting its lowest sales revenue in 18 months since the launch of the campaign, the decision to keep salaries the same is admirable and necessary. By proclaiming to want to reach women and girls regardless of socioeconomic status, sports companies especially should give them an incentive to reach the top. In a time where all sectors are demanding more equality for women, media and advertising leaders are going to be the forces persuading and pressuring larger audiences to act responsibly.

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