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PR Stunt Watch: Alcopop Records creates a ‘Just Did It’ Lionesses jersey for Mary Earps - because Nike didn't

This is the story of several football Lionesses-related football shirts. Unless you’ve been living under a stone, or perhaps in Scotland, it has been hard to miss the hype around Lionesses march to the World Cup Final. It has been even harder to miss the national outcry, which preceded and ran beyond the tournament, around the absence of a Mary Earps replica goalkeeper shirt from Nike.

The Cannes Lion, The Lioness and The Glitch In the Wardrobe

As own goals go, this was spectacular for a global brand that is at the vanguard of the development of women’s football. Earps is one of the star players of the England Women’s team. She she is also one of the most charismatic, recognisable and vocal leaders on and off the field.

Describing the decision as ‘very hurtful’, Earps went on to say:

“It is the young kids I am most concerned about. What you are saying is that goalkeeping isn’t important, but you can be a striker if you want. That is why the participation rate is so much lower.”

Not content with one own goal and following 150,000 signatures in a protest petition (started by a teenager called Emmy), a motion in Parliament, Earps’s heroic penalty save in the final and her winning the FIFA Golden Glove as best keeper of the tournament, Nike charged back up the field in the wrong direction of play and blasted a second screamer in their own net. 

Nike issued statement after the World Cup final to say it understood the desire for a retail version of the jersey and ‘was working towards solutions for future tournaments’. 

It went down badly with Mary Earps and caused a second blaze of negative publicity.

Earps posted the statement on her Instagram account with the question "@Nike is this your version of an apology/taking accountability/a powerful statement of intent?". Ouch.

Yet, one unlikely maverick brand stepped in whilst Nike floundered, releasing an Earps shirt bearing the cheeky slogan ‘Just Did It’. Alcopop Records is the very substantial side-hustle of Jack Clothier and - for full disclosure - a fellow creative with me at Cow. Jack is founder of this truly inclusive indie label and seized the moment. The Mary Earps tribute goalie shirt, designed by his wife Rhi Lee, was available to buy immediately with proceeds going to the Football Beyond Borders charity.

We hardly saw Jack in the next 48 hours as he went from creative to client, doing rounds of interviews with everyone from BBC News 24 and Five Live to The Sun and Pink News. The tribute shirt created by Jack and Rhi became emblematic of a groundswell of discontent which saw Nike do a massive U-turn and announce they would be making some’ Earps goalie shirts available.

Let’s not forget this is the same Nike that only a couple of months ago won a Cannes PR Gold Lion in ‘Cultural Insight’ for issuing a t-shirt emblazoned with the word ‘Home’ (because football came ‘Home’) in Nike font for Lionesses to wear during the on-pitch celebrations and the set-piece event in Trafalgar Square the following day – with guaranteed media presence.

Whilst the t-shirt featured prominently in live broadcast coverage of the event and in the papers the next day – job well done - it was a baffling decision by the Cannes judges. The blanket visibility and media coverage was ONLY made possible thanks the powerful brand flex and commercial access Nike holds over the women’s team rather than pushing the boundaries in bravery, guile, originality, technique, craft or, indeed, ‘cultural insight’. As a planned reactive, it seemed the obvious thing to do for maximum branding.

To put it bluntly, it was, in football parlance, a tap-in rather than a worldie.

Yet, when it really counted – the obvious thing to do was to act fast and create an Earps shirt – Nike just didn’t do it. And if a t-shirt with ‘Home’ in Nike font can win gold at Cannes, then little indie label Alcopop must be nailed on for the Grand Prix next year, right? I wouldn’t count on it.

This week's PR Stunt Watch was written by Mark Perkins, executive creative director at creative comms agency Cow.

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