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The Volvo Ocean Race is a grueling nine-month circumnavigation of the globe through some of the world's most treacherous seas. When the every-third-year race begins this October, Team SCA will be the first all-women team to enter in more than 10 years.
Team who? SCA is a $14 billion company active in 100 countries, yet it is relatively unknown. The race is an opportunity to broaden brand recognition for a primarily business-to-business marketer of tissue, napkins, feminine care and incontinence products. Its two main U.S. brands are Tork napkins, towels and tissues used mostly commercially in offices, schools and restaurants, and Tena incontinence-care products used by consumers and in health-care facilities.
Bringing together an all-female team was an intentional and brand-driven choice by SCA, whose end-product users are 80% women.
"The race gives us an opportunity to highlight the everyday, hardworking women who happen to be extraordinary athletes. At the same time, it also give us exposure in something that hits on almost every continent and many different countries around the world," said Don Lewis, president of SCA Americas.
And while SCA's brands are mainly sold by distributors, they are still brands consumers know. "We're now viewed by the external world as a consumer-products company, and we needed to do something … to help freshen and update the perception around SCA," said Amy Bellcourt, VP-communications of SCA Americas. "We know that today more consumers and customers care about the company behind the brands they buy."
The effort began more than two years ago when SCA began advertising for women to join the team. More than 400 women around the world applied. The final crew is 11 women, including two Americans; two Swiss sisters and several Olympic athletes. They are all accomplished offshore sailors, including one who was on the last all-women Volvo Ocean Race team in 2001-2002. All three of their male coaches have competed in the race; one of them served on three crews that won.
But this isn't simply a stunt to grab attention for the brand: This group wants to win. As British team member Abby Ehler, who was on the last women's team, writes at TeamSCA.com, "There are no excuses; we have all the tools and support to achieve."
SCA will market around the race, which runs from October in Spain to its June conclusion in Switzerland, with public relations, digital and social media including onboard blogging. The focus is on the stories of these "ordinary" women living their lifelong dreams as they tackle what has traditionally been a male-dominated race. SCA will hold events at each of the team's 10 port stops around the world, hosting pavilions in the race villages where people can come to see the boats and meet the crews.