How can brands tell underrepresented stories with nuance? Dive in with the team behind Speedo’s new campaign

Responding to research that children from marginalised communities are at a disadvantage when learning to swim, Swim Stories explores three families’ experiences.

4 April 2022


In the UK, only 42 per cent of schoolchildren in the most deprived areas are able to swim, compared to 86 per cent in the least deprived areas, according to research from Black Swimming Association and Sport England. “Moreover”, the release from Speedo continues, “532,000 children from ethnically-diverse communities have missed out on swimming lessons due to the pandemic”. Speedo’s recent campaign Swim United, responds to this fact. In three films created by youth culture and purpose agency Livity, produced by Prettybird and directed by Jess Kohl, Swim Stories “celebrates the joy of swimming”, as experienced by three real families who are underrepresented in the swimming community. But, when creating essentially commercial work, how do agencies and creatives tell real stories from marginalised communities in a way that’s truthful and nuanced?

“This isn’t easy,” Rani Patel, Livity’s director of cultural collaborations, tells It’s Nice That. “Often, when brands attempt to tell the stories of underrepresented cultures or communities, they end up subscribing to a generalised and diluted narrative which in turn fails to engage the audience they are trying to target. This raises further challenges for brands when it comes to authentically amplifying new voices and can render the word ‘diverse’ itself problematic and performative.”

Faced with navigating this complex territory, Livity emphasises the importance of telling more than one story on the project. The final series captured the experiences of Remi, “a mother of Caribbean-descent who reflects on the uniqueness of a childhood spent swimming at Brixton’s leisure centre,” Niran, “a father whose Keralan ancestry didn’t prioritise swimming, sharing in his daughter’s joy of the water every weekend,” and Cathy, “a single-mother to two young children, all three of whom were born with dwarfism, who is teaching her two daughters the joys of the pool”. All three stories sensitively explore each contributor’s personal experiences in and out of the water. To do it, director Jess Kohl used the filming process as a “platform” for stories.

Livity, Jess Kohl: Remi’s story, Swim Stories (Copyright © Speedo, 2022)

“I approach storytelling in commercial campaign projects in a similar way to my non-commercial work,” Jess explains, “asking pertinent questions that get to the heart of the story, and allowing for my contributors to use the space in the way that feels authentic to them.” For this to work, Jess explains that the more collaborative the process is, the better. Each film began as an in-depth pre-production conversation with each individual documented; “I wouldn’t feel comfortable dictating someone’s story to them,” the director adds. Visually, Jess opted to keep cinematography “clean and graphic” using London’s community pool spaces and to keep the work grounded in a “naturalistic” world.

“When we try to show a spectrum of lived experiences in a commercial brand world, the biggest obstacle is always ensuring that there is space to honour those multiple elements and not just see them through a narrow lens,” says Rani. Crucially, another way Swim Stories achieves this is by not telling these stories in isolation. Rani explains that the insights within the films will instead help power the tangible action being taken by Speedo in schools and leisure centres. Through the Swim United campaign, the brand will be engaging 35 schools across London, reigniting children’s interest in swimming through activity packs and providing intensive two-week swimming courses for 1,200 students. Swim United also comprises an identity created in house at Livity and a zine made for school children, illustrated by Raj Dhunna.

Rani concludes: “When it comes to telling truly personal stories, the last two years have challenged the commercial brand world to do this better, and more authentically than ever before. We’ve witnessed some successes which have pushed the industry forward, as well as some failures which have huge steps back when it comes to telling authentic narratives. At Livity, we believe firmly that it is only by inviting young people and future community leaders into our business every day that we can be inclusive in how we work and create.”

Livity, Jess Kohl: Cathy’s story, Swim Stories (Copyright © Speedo, 2022)

Livity, Jess Kohl: Niran’s story, Swim Stories (Copyright © Speedo, 2022)

GalleryLivity, Jess Kohl: Swim Stories (Copyright © Speedo, 2022)

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Livity, Jess Kohl: Swim Stories (Copyright © Speedo, 2022)

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About the Author

Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, she worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.

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