Did Orange score with its viral World Cup ad?

In the run-up to the Women’s World Cup—which officially got underway Thursday, and will see Canada play its first game Thursday night—big brands around the world have been rolling out campaigns looking to leverage the month-long celebration of “the beautiful game” taking place in Australia and New Zealand.

There’s little doubt that women’s soccer, and most other women’s sports, have seen more interest from fans and more support from brands in recent years. But there’s also no doubt they don’t receive the same respect or corporate support as men’s sports—even though the skill, athleticism, and creative genius of women players is just as awe-inspiring as that of their male counterparts.

That’s the core message of a new ad from French telecom Orange that was released a few weeks ago and went viral around the world.

We asked a handful of Canadian advertising pros to share their thoughts on the ad, which most of you have no doubt seen by now.

Robyn Morrissey, managing director, Zulu Alpha Kilo: As an avid women’s soccer player, it’s good to see brands giving more visibility to the sport, unveiling the true talent that exists and giving credit where it’s due. This piece from Orange, a telecom giant, does challenge our perceptions at an important moment, and make us aware of the biases we do have.

I commend Orange’s take on the familiar ‘twist’ construct. In this instance, it was a brilliant way to tackle the bias that exists and to refute the misconception that women’s soccer is less entertaining, or women players are less skillful. Personally, I wish we still didn’t need male players as ‘bait’ to draw viewers in, but until women’s soccer receives equal coverage, this is an effective tool to use. Orange is doing its part to help fight the inequity that exists.

Erin Kawalecki, partner and chief creative officer, Angry Butterfly: When an ad gets forwarded to me by multiple people outside of advertising (as this one has), it’s a sign that the brand has tapped into a cultural moment, and done it in a way that really resonates. This certainly fits that bill.

As a theme, it’s one we’re seeing a lot right now (inequality in sports, specifically for female athletes). But they found a very simple and powerful way of getting people’s attention, and I think when you watch something, and realize what you’ve been seeing is not what you thought you were seeing, there’s a powerful moment of perception change that makes the message stick.

It’s interesting because it’s such a simple idea, but required advanced tech to work. It’s also a nice exception to the rule that you should make a video as short as possible and introduce the brand in the first three seconds.

Kim Tarlo, executive creative director, Mint: I commend the attempt to uncover misogyny in the World Cup—it’s a very real issue, and it’s BS. But my first thought was wondering about how many women decision makers were at the table in the making of this ad. For me, using men as a way in to prove women’s greatness reinforces prejudices. I also think this spot is undermining the audience: Are we to assume that the only way to see women as great is by tricking them into watching?

The discrepancy in men’s and women’s professional sports isn’t in performance (Serena indisputably made that clear), but in the size of the fandom and viewership. I think it was a miss not to show this clearly to underscore the problem. When the men were playing, we saw droves of passionate fans. But when the trick was revealed they didn’t track back. A telco like Orange has a lot of opportunity to invest in support to promote viewership and fandom to drive equality. I look forward to seeing what brands do in that arena.

Terri Roberts, creative director, Ray Agency

Topline Thoughts: Really interesting use of technology that evokes a strong emotional response and helps shift perceptions of women in sport. Female athletes get less pay, less fans, less coverage, and less opportunities. While this ad may not level the playing field, it tackles gender bias with force.

The Execution: Two minutes is a lifetime these days. But I think it further demonstrates the point—these athletes are just as exciting to watch, and equally compelling. Who knows, maybe this is the most time some viewers have ever invested in watching women’s soccer.

Potential Brand Impact/Effect: As with any brand making a strong social statement, it’s all about the follow through. Let’s hope it lines up, and the brand’s commitment to gender equity goes deep. Also, I hope fans can view these games as easily as the men’s World Cup. It’s one thing to give this women’s team props. It’s another to give them the visibility they deserve.

Caitlin Keeley, executive creative director, advertising, The Local Collective

What has me grinning is that all the reaction videos I’ve watched on the FIFA spot comment on both the message and the execution. People love the concept and the craft. They respect it and they’re happy to see that it was made. That’s why they’re sharing it and commenting on it. That has me feeling very optimistic about both the future of who we think of as athletic heroes and the kind of work we can make about them.

Amy O’Neill, creative director, McCann

It’s a brilliant ad. It effectively calls out preconceptions and challenges expectations when it comes to sports. It draws you in and keeps you hooked as you start questioning things like “Why aren’t there more spectators in the stands?” I loved the choice to show the viewer a behind-the-scenes look throughout the reveal of the players from the women’s soccer team, drawing the parallel between men’s and women’s soccer and creating doubt in the viewers’ minds. And the best bit of all was the foresight and timeliness to release this as the Women’s World Cup is happening.

David Brown