Why the Ballito Pro & Billabong won the battle but lost the war
Reflecting on the recent coverage of the Ballito Pro and Billabong’s sponsorship, in which the under 18's female category winner received half the prize money of her male counterpart, I’d say it’s a case of that they technically won the battle but as a result, lost the war.
Yes, I suppose they can go on the defensive and justify giving the female winner half the prize money because they had half the female entrants (due to their own set quotas, mind you), claiming there is ‘less demand’ for women competitors.
Yes, they can ignore addressing the myriad systemic issues that create the ‘lower demand’ from women competitors, like the fact there's a fixed cost of competing and traveling to the event, regardless of your gender, and the fact that lower women's winner's fees therefore affect women's abilities to continue funding their competing - to create said demand.
Yes, they can bypass the fact that if women competitors want to attract category sponsors that help fund their competitions, they may have to be prepared to prance around in bikinis and conduct themselves in a way that may not be aligned to their personal values. The best women competitors may not have been born with Gigi Hadid's looks, which can lead to 'less attractive' technically brilliant women surfers being sidelined for the prettier and less brilliant surfers....which then leads to an attitude that women aren't capable of being as good at surfing as men, which is simply untrue. Ask the all-star, Layne Beachley.
However, for the sake of a gap of $AU 400 in prize money (?!), you could also say that with that response, globally the Ballito Pro and Billabong have shown themselves to be a non-progressive, chauvinistic duo. You could say, next time, I'm buying another brand because that's seriously lame, Billabong.
Instead, this pair could have taken a pro-equality leadership stance and said, even though historically the sport has not done this and financially this is not yet a fully self-funding initiative (even if its $AU 400...no biggie), we believe it’s time to give women a leg up in competitive surfing by making prize money equal. Because if we don't, who else will? Because we believe in equality and that’s the kind of sportspeople we are. Because we want to see surfing on par with many other sports that have already taken the initiative, including great work by institutions like the Commonwealth Games to drive gender equality. Because these are the kind of brands we are and these are our values. Because surfing is an awesome sport that brings so many people joy, happiness and wellbeing and women need to see other women succeeding in the sport to feel inspired to try it themselves. Because if you can't see it, you can't be it.
Will this damage the Billabong brand? Maybe a little. It may affect sales and brand affinity. For the sake of $AU 400, it really was not worth it. It hasn't done them any favours with over 50% of the world's population. More the point however, they have just made themselves targets for pro-equality activists. From here on, their every move will be scrutinised.
Maybe overall that will actually lead to better long-term outcomes for women in surfing. Maybe this establishes greater expectations of future surf competitions and their sponsors and says this kind of attitude is out-dated and no longer going to fly.
These are the times we now live in. The ways that brands interface with social change is a growing area of concern for marketers and businesses. As millennials grow up, with their focus on brand authenticity, this will only increase. And it is best brands are on the front-foot by being clear on their values and taking action that demonstrates those values.
Personally, I’d like to see more global brands (especially in industries that are presently male-dominated) elect a Gender Equality champion and strategically and proactively address these issues before they become click-bait. I’d like to see them leverage their progressive actions positively - improving their sales, brand metrics and corporate citizenship. I'd like to see them continue to raise the bar as POSITIVE brand role models.
Because, as business leaders and marketers we can. It's our responsibility. Our response-ability. Our ability to respond to the problems we see around us in positive ways and earn the respect, affinity and support of our community and stakeholders when we do.
Be that brand.
About this contributor
Amanda Blennerhassett is multi national award-winning Business & Marketing strategist at Brand Savvy Consulting, a mentor and keenly interested in the social, political and consciousness evolution and equality of humankind.
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