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Vancouver Whitecaps new marketing strategy shows TFC what screw-ups really look like

By all accounts, Toronto FC has had a rough off-season. Before the Major League Soccer regular season has even kicked off, the club has been in contract disputes with their two best players, been roundly criticized for putting together another dud of a squad, and characterized as an “expansion franchise,” even though it’s been around since 2007. But, hey, at least the club isn’t offending its fan base with a marketing campaign that objectifies women, right? That may seem like a low—and rather bizarre—bar to set, but this week, the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps did just that with an ambitious and aggressive publicity stunt that makes the dysfunction at TFC look like a ’50s sitcom.

In the lead up to its first ever match as a MLS franchise, which takes place this Saturday at home against Toronto, the Whitecaps disseminated a short promotional video as part of their “Where will you be March 19?” campaign. In the two-minute video, a female model is seen covering her body with paint—and little else. She then poses for a photo shoot, staring seductively at the camera while wearing nothing but her painted-on Whitecaps jersey (that just so happens to have premier sponsor Bell Canada’s logo plastered across the chest area).

The video went viral, with more than 70,000 hits to date on YouTube, and drew the ire of local women. Anne Giardini, prominent Vancouver forestry executive, novelist and daughter of author Carol Shields, took particular offence, sending a strongly worded note to the Whitecaps and Bell Canada.

Her missive, from the Globe and Mail:

“I can tell you what young women who are interested in soccer look like,” Giardini wrote, referencing her 16-year-old daughter, who plays community and school soccer. “They are fully dressed in a jersey, shorts and pads. They are sweaty, muddy, active, focused, exhilarated and keen to win.

“They are not passive. They are not painted. They are not a blank canvas for some kind of perverse sports fantasy. They don’t roll the ball suggestively against their necks. They don’t bat kohl-lined eyes into the cameras that track their efforts on the field.”

The director of marketing for the Whitecaps said the video was intended to demonstrate the passion soccer fans have for their sport, including the tradition of body painting, and was edited specifically to be an “artistic expression.”

And the Toronto FC contract imbroglio is an attempt to “motivate” the team’s best players.

• Whitecaps’ provocative marketing push draw complaints [Globe and Mail]Vancouver Whitecaps ad slammed as a ‘perverse sports fantasy’ [National Post] • Bell’s soccer ad requires some damage-control footwork [Vancouver Sun]

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