Last year, Under Armour overtook Adidas to become the No.2 biggest sports brand in the US. European marketing chief, Christopher Carroll, said it’s now setting its sights on being part of “the fabric of British culture”.
Continuing its fruitful strategy of aligning itself to athletes, the next phase of the sportswear maker's activity centres on its associations with 50 individual rugby players.
Although not an official sponsor of the Rugby World Cup, the self-styled ‘challenger brand’ has kicked off a timely campaign ahead of the tournament which will play out on social media in a bid to cement its position in the UK.
Speaking to The Drum, Chris Carroll, EMEA marketing director, said it’s currently seen as a young, premium brand in comparison to its American-arm where its growing consumer base is increasingly seeing it as the “brand you’re proud to be seen in”.
Over the past two years it has doubled its brand awareness among Brits but is still trying to establish itself as a brand worth paying more for.
“Under Armour is a fabric of American athletic culture. In the UK we’re progressing and want to be embedded into the sporting culture,” he said.
For the rugby-focused push – its main wave of activity for this year – Under Armour is turning to Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) players Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenny as well as England player James Haskell, Ireland’s Jordi Murphy, Australia’s Drew Mitchell and Canadian Jamie Cudmore.
Harnessing their social reach, Under Armour will set challenges through them to non-professional athletes and ask people submit films of them completing tasks using the hashtag #EarnYourArmour. Roberts, Halfpenny et al will select the best and offer prizes such as a day at a training camp, equipment, or sportswear.
Carroll is hoping fans will come to associate the values of rugby – fearlessness and aggression coupled with humbleness – with Under Armour. “These guys want to beat each other. That is juxtaposed with the humbleness off the pitch. That’s unique to the rugby sport.”
Sponsoring the underdog
The rugby push falls under a wider strategy of establishing Under Armour as the brand behind lesser-known athletes, be it rugby, football, or athletics – the underdogs have the better story to tell.
It’s a strategy that has served it well in the US. It signed 19-year old Jordan Speith when he was a relatively unknown junior golf champion. Not long after, Speith became only of one six golfers ever to win the Master's and US. Open in the same year.
Looking to replicate the success in Europe, Under Armour recently took over adidas as the sponsor of Andy Murray – a deal rumoured to be worth £15m - as the tennis star returns from injury to re-establish his place in the top rankings.
“We are not just a podium brand, we are not just celebrating a goal or gold medal. We’re showcasing the hard work, preparation and challenges. We want to talk about comebacks,” Carroll said.
This was shown no better than as yesterday’s news of Welsh player Leigh Halfpenny’s injury and subsequent exit from the Rugby World Cup broke. Carroll was already planning how it work with the player on his comeback; “We can’t wait to partner with him and showcase how hard he works. It’s real and authentic; that’s what we’re about.”
Moving Away from TV
This strategy has resulted in a shift away from buying TV media to investing in digital and social channels which are, according to Carroll, simply better for establishing an emotional connection.
“We want to speak to people, not at them,” he said. “Digital and social networks are not the key to the future, they are the key to now. So right now we’re partnering with Facebook and Twitter but are also looking to work with Snapchat and Instagram.”
A crucial part of its communications and ability to stand up to the likes of Nike and Adidas in the coming years will come through its own “fitness network.”
Earlier this year, it shelled out $560m for two apps; MyFitnessPal, a free app for tracking food habits and calorie intake and Endomondo, a Danish pocket-sized personal trainer which has been merged with its own fitness trackers and MapMyFitness workout app. The combined platform has over 140 million registered users, revealed Carroll.
Currently still in the design and build phase, Carroll is hoping for a roll out ahead of the Rio Olympics next year and for it to simultaneously be integrated with its marketing and sponsorship.
“We want to make sure we can help any athlete (professional or amateur) get the best sleep, diet, help them monitor and track data to prepare, compete and then repair. We want them to be able to see, not only their personal history, but compare it with that with a much broader community.”