Image courtesy of bodybymilkmail.bodybymilk.com
It is official: London 2012 is the most gender equal Olympic Games to date. This is the first time that every country has a woman on their team—even Brunei, Qatar and Saudi Arabia sent female athletes. Women's boxing is now an Olympic sport. The US has sent its first female majority team and Russia has its first female flag bearer, Maria Sharapova. With all these advancements, it's surprising that female athletes still struggle to make ends meet after achieving Olympic gold. They are all over the television for weeks, only to vanish from view for another four years. So what's the deal?
Researchershave found that in fact women only have a few weeks to capitalize on their Olympic glory or risk being forgotten. Michael Phelps is seen on cereal boxes everywhere, but will it be the same for Rosie MacLennan? A study at the University of Delaware has found that advertisers rarely use female athletes as spokespeople, and when they do, the marketing campaigns generally aren't very successful.
Marketing executives have lost their creativity and it seems they rely solely on the youth and sex appeal formula instead of focusing on athletic ability. Only a select group of women get endorsement deals because of this double standard. Usually, they play three sports: volleyball, tennis and gymnastics. Female athletes considered 'masculine' in these sports are quickly brushed aside with the rest of the female Olympians. It's no coincidence that these sports' uniforms are the skimpiest or that these athlete's body parts are displayed in strange close up shots during games. Sounds like a marketing dream.
Advertisers don't know what to do with female athletes. Companies focus on their sexuality and bodies, which does not make these incredible women as relatable to the public. The study also revealed that ads focused on the athlete's attractiveness had negative responses from female customers.
Take Dara Torres' Got Milk? ad. This woman is remarkable: she is a middle-aged single mom who balances family and work commitments. She also beat swimmers half her age to win three silvers in Beijing in 2008. As a five-time Olympic swimmer from the US, she should have been a bankable representative. Advertising is about telling stories and Got Milk? didn't get the message. Instead of using her incredible story, Got Milk? focused on her amazing swimmer's physique and attractiveness. Epic fail.
When these ads fail, corporations are hesitant to take a chance on female athletes as spokespeople and doors close on a new generation of Olympians. Olympic athletes make more interesting spokespersons because of their diversity. Often they have overcome personal difficulties and made immense sacrifices to even compete since most don't have multimillion-dollar salaries. Their stories are more unique so why are advertisers ignoring this potential?
Kait Bolongaro loves to write about cultures and how people occupy them. She is a Masters student studying Journalism and Media Across Cultures in Denmark. She is a freelance journalist and photographer who is addicted to travelling and developing new stories. To follow her on her journeys, check out her website or follow her on twitter.