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EA Sports, adam&eveDDB and Channel 4 raise the bar for diversity

The broadcaster’s £1m Diversity in Advertising Award winning campaign tackles the lack of British Asian representation in professional football.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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How do you solve a problem like the lack of British Asian representation in professional football?  Armed with £1m of media spend, EA Sports is harnessing the cultural firepower of gaming to change the narrative for the next generation of footballers having scooped the top prize in Channel 4’s annual £1m Diversity in Advertising Award.

The winning campaign taps into the importance of community-driven marketing in a post-pandemic world. With top billing given not just to EA Sports FIFA Ambassador Hamza Choudhury, but the grassroots football team, the Midnight Ramadan League. At a time when football has dominated the headlines for all the wrong reasons, the community aspect of the campaign underlines the role of advertising in showcasing diverse footballing talent to create new role models for the next generation of footballers whether they choose to play in the Premier League, at a grassroots level, or on their consoles, or a combination of all three.

The campaign, which launched last night during Googlebox, was rooted in the insight that only 0.25% of the UK’s 4,000 professional footballers are British Asians. Representation of British Asians in professional football has been found to be considerably lacking and disproportionate to the wider population. Research from 2020 showed that of the UK’s 4,000 professional footballers, just 10 were British Asian (0.25%). This is despite British Asians making up 9.7% of the population who play football in the UK recreationally.

David Jackson, VP Brand, EA SPORTS FIFA, explained: “Football is the world’s game and has immense power to unite family, friends and fans. At EA SPORTS we strive to grow the love of football through the stories we tell, so we are delighted to work with Hamza to celebrate the Midnight Ramadan League. Hopefully we can inspire future generations to get out onto the pitch and play.” 

Representation in front of and behind the lens

The approach also underlines the marketing firepower of harnessing the untapped marketing potential of Ramadan and explores the Midnight Ramadan League, a grassroots football team set-up to help those who struggle to play during their Ramadan fast, with matches kicking-off after Iftar and before Suhoor. 

The authenticity of the campaign and this approach is underpinned by authentic representation both in front of and behind the lens having been directed by Bassam Tariq and produced by Pulse Films. Bassam Tariq, Director, explained: “Though the film has countless men running around the screen, it’s important to note that this spot was built from the ground up by Black and Brown women leading the charge both from EA SPORTS and adam&eveDDB. It was an honour to work with them and have these strong women as my guiding light.”

He continued: “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever direct such an unapologetically Muslim commercial with my fellow sisters and brothers in faith. It wasn’t enough that we worked closely with the Midnight Ramadan League co-founder Obayed Hussain, but we prayed, broke bread and drank buttloads of chai together. I’m honoured to have worked on such a pivotal commercial not only for the Birmingham folks but also for myself as I continue to broaden my own experience of what it means to be Muslim and Asian.”

Selma Ahmed, Senior Creative at adam&eveDDB added: “We chose intentionally to work with people who have a lived experience and nuanced understanding of the culture and community we are celebrating, from the director Bassam Tariq to the music composer Ben Khan. It’s a real testament to the power of having different voices and perspectives in the industry, so we are able to tell these stories the way they deserve to be told.”

A new narrative

This powerful narrative is based on the story of Qaiser, a British Asian teenager and role model to his younger sister, Aaminah. After breaking his fast, viewers follow Qaiser as he leaves the family home late at night before arriving at the Midnight Ramadan League pitch.

After being knocked to the floor by a robust tackle, Leicester City midfielder and his role model, Hamza Choudhury, lifts Qaiser up off the pitch before taking the ball and scoring a goal. The advert concludes with Qaiser arriving back home, exhilarated by the game and explaining the night to his excited younger sister.

Speaking on his involvement in the campaign, Hamza Choudhury, EA SPORTS FIFA Ambassador, added: “Growing up, football was always my first love. From playing with my friends in the street after school to heading to the pitch at the weekends, it was always my dream to become a football player. I’m proud of my Asian heritage and without it, I wouldn’t be the person or footballer that I am today, so it was an honour to partner with EA SPORTS to tell the inspirational story of the Midnight Ramadan League, a team I would have loved to play for! I hope that, together, we can help inspire future generations to follow their dreams.”

The importance of this inspiration driven by diverse role models cannot be underestimated. The mantra ‘if you can’t see it, you can’t be it’ is more than pithy rhetoric. It is rooted in statistical fact. In 2020, a survey conducted by the Football Supporters’ Association and Beyond Entertainment found that 86% of football fans felt that more role models would increase the numbers of British Asian footballers.

EA SPORTS has also created a comic book written by Hamza titled 'Hamza: My Story’. The book shares his upbringing as a British Asian and his journey to make it as a professional footballer. It will be distributed to Premier League Primary Stars and Show Racism the Red Card linked schools to help inspire the next generation. The gaming brand has also released a number of bespoke FIFA 21 Midnight Ramadan League inspired in-game assets. These include an exclusive Midnight Ramadan League kit.

An investment in change

The campaign adds to a body of work successfully changing the cultural narrative and challenging stereotypes thanks to Channel 4’s annual £1m Diversity in Advertising Award. Previous winners have focussed on disability (Maltesers), mental health (Lloyds Bank), the portrayal of women in the media (RAF) and the lack of representation and stereotyping of the LGBT+ community (Starbucks), seeing Channel 4 give away £4 million worth of commercial airtime to date.

This year, for the first time in its history the broadcaster has also awarded an enhanced package of £350,000 of free advertising airtime to Lloyds Bank, marking the second time the bank has successfully scooped funding from the award, this time in partnership with MediaCom and GUAP Studios. The bank has also become the first brand to take up the broadcaster’s match-funding arrangement.

Other finalists this year included Boots in partnership with Ogilvy UK, #MerkyBooks in partnership with PlayNice and the Royal Navy in partnership with Engine, another previous recipient of the award. As well as an in-house entry from Tesco, successfully scuppering the outdated notion that in house agencies are where creativity goes to die.

The ambition and scope of this latest campaign, combined with the potential of a growing number of brands bringing their work to screen via matched funding underline the continued positive ripple effects of the broadcaster’s long-term investment and action on diversity and inclusion.

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