Earlier this month, Marcus Rashford, the 22-year-old Manchester United and England footballer drove a campaign on social media with an open letter to the government asking to extend the free school meals program for 1.3 million children of low-income families over the summer holidays. His activism with a simple and clear message was successful and prompted a government U-turn on the issue with Boris Johnson announcing the decision.

The genius of Rashford’s campaign was its simplicity in its strategy, tactics and execution. It starts with a clear position based on his personal experience, which no one can question him on with his motive being purely genuine. 

In April 2020, Rashford joined Roc Nation, the American talent agency founded by Shawn Carter, better known as Jay-Z. The agency now represents him in his philanthropic work as well as PR and marketing. While Rashford’s praised initiative was his own idea, Roc Nation simply provided support.

Founded initially as a music talent agency, they have now moved into sport with Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng signing in 2015, and now also representing Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne and Aston Villa’s Tyron Mings.

“We don’t really consider ourselves a traditional agency – we really are a movement,” said Michael Yormark, the president of Roc Nation Sports International, adding that it was focused on “protecting and defending those that can’t protect and defend themselves.”

The power and influence football players, and other high profile sportspeople in general, have is invaluable when using their platforms to reach the masses with more followers and reach than most traditional media – and an unfiltered platform to share their thoughts and feelings.

Rashford’s cause is inclusive and not initially about politics but simply about human rights and children having food to eat. His argument is isolated in a place where it cannot be questioned and is universally supported, both by football fans and wider society.

By consistently using his personal platforms to keep up the momentum and drive awareness, mixed with traditional media interviews, he was able to reach the widest possible audience. When the campaign was successful and the government made the U-turn, Rashford displayed humility. There has never been any basking at the moment and already talking about the further steps that need to be taken.

From a marketing perspective, it was a perfectly executed campaign – activism with an authentic and passionate delivery across the right platforms, at the right time with the right tone, remains to be extremely effective and powerful.

Companies, broader society – the media –  are now celebrating influential voices who are not afraid to put themselves out there on serious issues. Moving forward, sports federations, leagues, clubs, sponsors and broadcasters will continue to align with those who are passionate about delivering these types of messages and actions, especially due to this also resonating in the commercial spaces.

As Rashford says himself, “It’s becoming more normal that people speak out on topics that they believe in and I think it’s just positive for the future”.

With 1.3 million children benefiting directly from Rashford’s campaign, the precedent has truly been set. This is a time, with the help of social media and as a society are open to educate, influence and make a real difference now and for younger generations to come. Players now know, if they questioned it before, that they have the platforms and the power – this is likely just the beginning.