The 24-year-old Sakshi Malik had scripted history when she won the bronze medal in women’s freestyle wrestling in the 58 kg category at the 2016 Summer Olympics, becoming the first Indian female wrestler to win a medal at the Olympics and the fourth female Olympic medalist from the country.
It may come across as a small feat for someone who trains for hours everyday alongside a strict diet regimen. The road to this victory, however, has been more about “self belief” than anything else. In an interview to Vogue, she revealed a drastic change in attitude in the people around her. “When I left for Rio, no one asked after me. Since my win, people are giving me so much love and respect. They want to take selfies with me and invite me to events.”
Facing societal mockery for pursuing a male sport like wrestling coupled with the stigma of being a girl, was a given for Sakshi who hails from Rohtak, Haryana. But, her Olympic feat has changed all of that: She has become the face of the government’s Beti Bachao campaign and a hero in her village.
“In the last few months, more than a hundred girls have joined wrestling in my Rohtak village,” she says. “My win has increased their courage. They feel they can also dream. People have also changed their mindset. The villagers ask me what to feed their daughters so they can also wrestle.”
Our world has been more perked up about gender equality in these times, than ever, with most international brands standing up for women and the need to bring about a lasting change in the way the world perceives women. But, most importantly, in the way women perceive themselves. Brands are acting as catalysts in this process by bringing on board women achievers.
Sakshi Malik’s timely win coincides with this phenomenon; she is now the face of PUMA Women’s #DoYou campaign. Through this campaign launched on October 11, International Day of the Girl Child, Puma seeks to encourage women to ‘Do You’, to recognise their inner strength, grace and confidence ‘by celebrating personal achievements, progress, empowerment and confidence in an unapologetic, joyful way.’
In a minute-long film created by Culture Machine’s Blush channel, Sakshi shares her journey and calls upon women to join the movement and plank with her.
This performing the ‘plank together with other women’ is PUMA’s idea of setting a world record as the largest number of women planking together for 60 seconds. In case you are wondering (like I did), ‘why planking’, the answer lies here: The plank is a core strengthening exercise, which in form looks similar to a push up, but strengthens the core, making one stronger and more resilient.
Globally, model and actress Cara Delevingne is the face of the campaign, while the Indian leg of the campaign features many more women achievers: Actress and fitness addict Jacqueline Fernandez, avid marathoner Lisa Haydon, Everest sisters Tashi and Nungshi Malik, musician Anushka Manchanda, international Zumba education specialist Sucheta Pal, supermodel Ujwalla Raut, actress Kalki Koechlin, fitness and nutrition specialist Nidhi Kamal Mohan, and professional golfer Sharmila Nicollet.
A dedicated website ‘Do You Movement’ has been created which houses the video and text stories about these women achievers. One can share their own story too. Women have been invited to join the record-breaking event on 6th November at the Reliance Jio garden in Mumbai; the registrations are open on the website. One can also find planking events nearby, as well as a shopping link for women’s fitness wear from the brand.
These women brand ambassadors are employing their social media influence to spread the word with pictures of them planking, sparking more pictures of women planking. (I tried it too, couldn’t proceed beyond one!)
Dreams should be all-consuming. Don't lose faith, and make them come true. #DoYou #PUMAWomen https://t.co/HkpNuVhOno pic.twitter.com/mgdYSHcjLg
— Jacqueline Fernandez (@Asli_Jacqueline) October 13, 2021
Strength comes from within, from your core. Channel your core strength. #DoYou #PUMAWomen https://t.co/bYAX5lZvGQ pic.twitter.com/M7faGNIomY
— Lisa Haydon (@HaydonLisa) October 13, 2021
Core strength, inside and out. #DoYou. #PUMAWomen https://t.co/DNMTfIDsmd pic.twitter.com/8VUCsOgFTb
— Kalki Koechlin (@kalkikanmani) October 13, 2021
Namumkin ko mumkin kar dikhane ki sakti aapke andar hi hai. Join the plank movement #DoYou #PUMAWomen https://t.co/vXM1lfBixQ pic.twitter.com/i4y9s8u9iH
— Sakshi Malik (@SakshiMalik) October 13, 2021
Rio se pehle, mera naam medal contenders main tha hi nahi. Magar mainai,10 second mein, namumkin to mumkin kar dikhaya. #DoYou #PUMAWomen pic.twitter.com/7C30HcouFq
— Sakshi Malik (@SakshiMalik) October 11, 2021
Encouraging. Non preachy. Real stories
For a fitness and sportswear brand, a women-centric campaign like ‘Do You’ is a relevant communication plug to connect and engage with women. And doing this via the ‘plank’ has ensured a brand differentiation, what with other major sportswear brands also indulging in a similar communication.
Reebok India’s #FitToFight campaign launched on Women’s Day this year is helmed by actress Kangana Ranaut, as brand ambassador she embodies what the brand stands for. The central message is: “How fit you are, decides how far you go. Go far. Be more. Be more human.” The brand roped in many real life women achievers and also invited women to share their ‘fit to fight’ stories. In fact, Reebok also indulged in getting women to exercise together. Read: “#FitToFight: Kangana Ranaut’s personal triumphs seek to inspire women in Reebok brand story”.
Following this, Nike tried to make noise with actress Deepika Padukone and other sports women and celebrities, going ‘Da da ding’. The video seeded through Padukone’s massive Facebook following quickly went viral with that catchy number but also raked in some criticism for being overtly sensational without making sense!
As for PUMA, coming into the picture now, the brand has some big shoes to fill into. It has to have a unique message and it needs to own that message for a longer period of time for it to make a lasting impression on Indian women’s minds. Marketing to women needs to go beyond a catchy song, a clarion call or just a one-off campaign.
Partnering with Blush is a good idea when a women’s brand does not invest in India-centric social media channels. Lately, Culture Machine’s Blush has been emerging as the YouTube channel for today’s women by telling stories of real women: their struggles, problems and achievements. Read: “How Blush is emerging as the YouTube channel for today’s women one video at a time.”
Puma’s #DoYou is an encouraging stand in line with the ’empowering women’ age we live in. The concept is supported with great stories, however, the fate of the campaign will be decided by how far the brand walks along with the women in their journey of strengthening their core, discovering their inner strength.