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Problem Solved: How VMLY&R and Ford Opened the Motorsport World Up to Women

Behind the Work 272 Add to collection

Federico Russo, executive creative director at VMLY&R Italy on how Ford, Mindshare and BCW's virtual racing track allowed drivers to experience how hard it is for women in motorsport

Problem Solved: How VMLY&R and Ford Opened the Motorsport World Up to Women

Federico Russo was born copywriter in 1999 and grew up in the agencies CLM & Associates, Lowe Lintas Pirella Göttsche All Partners, BGS D'Arcy, Leo Burnett, Publicis, for clients such as Honda Motorcycles, Fiat, SanPaolo Bank, P&G, Philip Morris, Poste Italiane, Renault. 

Federico has won several international pitches for Renault and, as a freelance, a global pitch for National Geographic Channel. He started his career as creative director ten years ago for the client Peroni Nastro Azzurro that he followed in two different agencies, and then in 2015 Federico entered the WPP orbit as ECD of GTB, the agency dedicated to Ford, that he has contributed to becoming an international creative hub on multiple projects. 

Since 2020 Federico has been the creative director of specific international projects to guide Ford's communication in the future of electrification. Currently, he is consistently defining the creative direction for Ford as ECD of VMLY&R Italy and taking care of the creative direction of the agency's pitches. In conjunction with the role above, as ECD for VMLY&R Commerce, Federico assists British American Tobacco with the creative direction within their campaigns for the combustible category by outlining their creative strategy in South Europe Area. 

Federico’s work has been awarded and shortlisted in the main international awards, from Cannes Lions to Clio Awards, from Webby to D&AD.


WHAT YOU MADE

We have developed - together with Ford, Mindshare and BCW- the project W Track, a virtual racing track that allows drivers to experience how hard it is for women to get into motorsports. It aims to raise awareness of inclusivity and gender equality in motorsport and gaming and to encourage women to see racing, whether real or simulated, as a career path.

We have decided to launch the W Track on March 8th at the Monza Circuit with a media partnership with Freeda -iconic network for diversity and inclusion issues- and a real life event, including Pro Players' performances, live driving sessions, and a panel conversation attended by personalities from the worlds of automotive and politics to discuss genre inequality in real and sim racing, moderated by the renowned Italian journalist, Maria Latella. 

I believe this was the perfect scenario to launch the W Track: we modified a legendary Italian racing circuit to simulate barriers, obstacles, and penalties women face in their quest to become pro Racers. Partnering with Assetto Corsa, the most popular racing videogame, and the Autodrome of Monza, we added to the famous track the twists and turns of the word that slow down the career path of each female driver: WOMAN, to demonstrate how much longer and harder the path to the finish is for female drivers, both in real and simulated racing.

So the word ‘WOMAN’ becomes the protagonist – even if virtually – of one of the most famous motorsport tracks in the world, the National Autodrome of Monza, to promote gender equality.

THE PROBLEM

We started from the background that the world of racing and sim racing is not a place for a woman: gender discrimination, online sexual harassment (women are judged more by how they look than by how they race) and cultural bias in general when trying to access a ‘men's camp’, keep them off track.

In this scenario, our client wanted to highlight this lack and we come up with an idea to make awareness of it. 

And after a bit of digging around, what did you discover the ‘real’ problem to be (and what thinking or research brought you there)?

The gender bias is even more evident in sectors that are considered purely masculine, such as professional motor racing, both real and virtual. The lack of reference roles does not inspire young women to pursue a career where there is little female presence, and retrograde cultural legacies combined with toxic masculinity discourage women from taking such a path.


IDEATION

We have focused our creative process on the elements that characterise the racing world. We had several starting points that ranged from the helmet to the suit, to the track. We wanted to build an idea that would immediately show the obstacles that women find along their path to becoming a driver.

The initial idea we had was to build the impossible track. A circuit that would have been hell for anyone to drive. But we did not find a satisfactory visual synthesis. In the end, we thought that the biggest obstacle a woman could encounter on her path to make a career in racing was precisely the fact that she was a woman. And we thought of applying the word 'woman' to the path that would have involved transforming a straight line into a maze of curves.

The main problem was finding a way to change the layout of a famous circuit. The change would have been impossible on the real track, for obvious budget reasons. But we thought that in video games we would have had more freedom. Although there were two main obstacles: which software house would have been available to modify their own game for us, and which circuit would have been available to modify their own asset, considering that changing the layout of a circuit is like changing the logo of a company.


PROTOTYPE & DESIGN

At VMLY&R creative department in Rome there are several video game enthusiasts (I am a gamer myself). And after research, we discovered that one of the few racing video games that allows track editing was Assetto Corsa, one of the most beloved and realistic car racing video games in the world. Our great chance was that Kunos Simulations, developer of Assetto Corsa, had its headquarters right near Rome. Physical closeness aided the creative process. In addition, Assetto Corsa, I guess like all the main racing games, had direct contact with the headquarters of the main circuits and they put us in contact with Autodrome of Monza, the most famous circuit in Italy, to present the idea and develop it.

The most difficult task was to transform the Monza circuit by writing the word 'woman' in one of its straights. Especially since the curves of the word could have compromised the playability of the circuit. In addition, it was necessary to find the right font to ensure that the word could be read with an aerial shot and in graphics.

We worked with Kunos Simulations to make the game fun, challenging and at the same time able to convey the message that for a woman the path to the finish line is slowed down and full of hairpin bends.

At the beginning we called the Project 'W Variant', because 'variant' is the term used to define the curves that are added to the circuits to make them safer or more fun. But after two years of Covid, we thought that the term referred to pandemic context and the situation forced us to change our initial name and make it more generic.


LIVE

Assetto Corsa development team has a wide experience in the extremely demanding job of creating a digital circuit so that cars face the same challenges they do in real life, because of visual, grip, bumps, kerbs. They showed us that the more accurate you get thanks to a surgical accuracy for the details of cars and circuits, the more it’s possible to work on the cars parameters in the game to scale the difficulty up to be as realistic as possible or scale it down to make it fun and accessible even without the skillset of a race driver. This is why quality is so relevant. 

The campaign was very well received by the press and public – the media partnership with FREEDA, Digital Media Company icon of diversity and inclusion issues, was successful and we gathered a lot of positive comments from a large majority female audience - and we will soon launch a save the date to do the real recruiting of future female drivers. Ford enthusiastically approved our idea of opening W Driving University, the high performance driving school for a purely female audience, and we are setting the stage to find the best drivers of tomorrow, both on real and simulated tracks.

As ambassador of WPP Italia's Diversity, Equity & Inclusion program, I am delighted that the main client I work for has accepted to realise this idea and to undertake a path to make it credible. Ford has a long history of fostering a more equal and inclusive motor industry. In 2022, Ford was recognised as a leader on the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index in 45 countries and regions for the fourth year running. We now can start a mentoring program to inspire and empower a diverse generation of future racers.

The launch of the W Track was an opportunity for Ford to start a debate on gender equality in Italy in the world of eSports. From words to deeds, the announcement of the opening of the W Driving University represents the concrete commitment of the company that substantiates the entire campaign: a significant journey has begun to find the best drivers both on a real track and on a simulated track that will materialize in exciting sports driving lessons.

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VMLY&R Italy, Tue, 22 Mar 2022 15:56:19 GMT