The pressure to be the best has made sport, a world that should be welcoming and inclusive, increasingly removed from people’s day-to-day lives. The human impact of a culture that idolises a level of perfectionism that even the greatest athletes struggle to attain is huge, and it is up to brands to help change the discourse. One in four adults, and four out of five adolescents, do not currently get enough physical activity, according to the WHO.

For brands that align with sport – or with sporting audiences and active lifestyles – the need to inspire more participation is now urgent. But to play this role, they first need to stand out. 

Here are four traps to avoid along with strategies for success for brands wanting to dominate the game. 

Don’t encourage individualism, enable people to celebrate others

With sport becoming increasingly individualistic, the brands that stand out are those nudging people to look beyond themselves and celebrate the efforts of others. Doing so nurtures more supportive communities in which people win together, rather than alone. 

Strava started out as an app for friends to track their cycling. It has since grown into a social network dedicated entirely to sport. Today, it positions itself as “the home of your active life”, helping you track all your exercise as well as connect to fellow athletes around the globe. The currency on Strava is ‘kudos’, a spin on conventional likes that people can react with. 

Similarly, Peloton encourages its instructors to ‘shout out’ users at key milestones. With as many as 23,000 people attending any given class, this type of community endorsement reinforces commitment and inspires others to follow suit. 

Don’t take sport for granted, offer a unique perspective on its value

With such a large proportion of the world still living inactive lives, the case for sport needs to be more clearly defined, and the benefits more effectively communicated. This isn’t one-size-fits-all. Brands should take a stance that aligns with the impact they’re trying to have in the world. 

Red Bull is all about the thrill of sport. Its branding doubles down on the excitement and adrenaline that comes with pushing yourself to extremes, reaching new heights and putting your body on the line. 

This is the red thread in all of the brand’s activities over the past two decades, reflected in its well-known slogan, “Red Bull Gives You Wings”. No matter where it shows up – from Formula 1 to jumping out of rockets – you can guarantee it’ll pack a punch. 

Don’t worship the greats, reflect people’s everyday experience of sport

A lot of brands rely on celebrity sponsorships to convey product quality; tying their goods and services to the skills of the best athletes in the world. But this can be problematic because it can create unrealistic expectations for a vast majority of the population. There is a more inclusive narrative, one that closes the gap between the sport we observe, and the sport we play. 

Last year, H&M launched a new brand, H&M Move. The aim of the brand is captured by General Manager Simon Brown, “We’re a movement brand. We’re here to celebrate movement and invite the world to move.” To accompany its purpose, the brand shows up in a way that feels playful and fun, celebrating normal people rather than big-name athletes, and celebrating everyday moments. To deliver on this, H&M Move offers stylish and functional ‘movewear’ that blurs the traditional line between lifestyle and sport.  

Don’t follow the crowd, show up in unexpected places

Most brands compete over a very small set of sporting moments; a sponsorship deal with the World Cup, an athlete at the Olympics, or a bike in the Tour de France. There’s a good reason for this – these tried-and-tested appearances are commercial gold. But following the playbook in this way does little to build new equity, or at least the kind that helps position your brand differently in people’s minds. 

This year, the Women’s Six Nations had a surprising title partner, TikTok. Recognising the rising popularity of the women’s game in a traditionally male-dominated sport, TikTok made itself synonymous not just with women’s rugby, but more broadly the empowerment of women in sport. 

It’s time for brands to get active

Brands have the power to change people’s behaviour. Nowhere is this more needed than the world of sport – a world that has become fraught with the winner-takes-all culture we see today. The brands that are carving out relevant and strong platforms in the world of sport are those that provide the tools for people to celebrate others, offer a unique and compelling view on the future of sport, reflect people’s lived experiences and show up in places that matter most. Time to stop watching from the sidelines.

Cover image source: Tiko