Last week, sporting giant Under Armour quietly announced a radical shake-up to its top-management team. Interim top marketer Kip Fulks has returned to what he spent the bulk of his near 20-year career with the retailer doing – overseeing its products – while Andy Donkin, brand marketer at Amazon, has been poached to take a permanent grip of the reins.
Fulks, who at one time had served as president of footwear and innovation, has been acting chief marketing officer (CMO) since November and led the search for his permanent replacement. While Under Armour has successfully delivered double-digit growth for 24 consecutive quarters, Donkin’s arrival is at a time when it needs to quicken sales in key areas such as running and basketball whilst also continuing to build loyalty for the brand beyond its heartland.
Adidas has already made inroads into Under Armour’s growth in North America. In the three months to June, the German business saw sales rise 22.6 per cent to €788m, pushing it past the same business that overtook it in 2014. Despite the blip, Under Armour is seeing its own sales swell 21.5 per cent to $872m over a similar period though that growth is not equally spread, with apparel up 20 per cent. Right now, it's an apparel company but the business needs shoe sales, international business and a stronger women's range to take it to the next level. Less than a fifth (14 per cent) of sales come from outside of America and the goal is to have that up by 18 per cent in 2018, while the company’s bottom line is yet to feel any real effects of the digital app ecosystem it has high hopes for.
"I am also excited to add new talent to our executive team as we continue to expand our business globally […] Andy Donkin bring[s]unmatched expertise […] and reflect[s] our continued drive as an innovation company," said Kevin Plank, founder and chief executive of Under Armour on the arrival of his new CMO.
Who is Donkin?
Despite his successes, Donkin is a relatively unknown marketer in comparison to his peers at similar sized companies – perhaps symptomatic of the heavily controlled PR machine sitting underneath Amazon.
According to his LinkedIn profile, his early career was spent at FMCG-giant Colgate Palmolive where he was associate director. After six-years he moved into marketing, working for there.com (an early ‘social virtual world’), before heading to events website Tickets.com as president. It wasn't until a decade later that he returned to marketing, working for Travelocity before joining Amazon in 2011.
At Amazon he undoubtedly helped transform the brand into how consumers see it today, managing the global media budget and developing its marketing strategy across North America, Europe and Asia and overseeing campaigns for Prime, FireTV, Kindle and Echo.
He also steered the retailer’s first ever Super Bowl campaign earlier this year.
And it’s this last piece of work that perhaps gives the best insight into what Under Armour is hoping to tap into.
In a rare interview with Venture Beat, Donkin said the approach was calculated and left very little to chance whilst simultaneously sought to shed Amazon’s cold and corporate image.
He preferred to focus on the emotion, rather than the functionality, and as such has prioritised marketing activities at the top of the marketing funnel rather than being blinkered by talk of customer acquisition, engagement, and retention.
This approach not only resulted in the hugely successful ‘BaldwinBowl’ spot in the States but closer to home delivered the much loved ‘Thought It, Bought It’ campaign from Lucky Generals.
For its part, Lucky Generals said it would be sad to lose him from the Amazon business. "But he will undoubtedly bring a new dimension the the Under Armour team," said Andy Nairn, founder at Lucky Generals.
"He is a great client to work with. Straightforward, decent and ambitious. The kind of person you want right next to you in the trenches".
What he will bring to Under Armour?
His arrival comes at a crossroads for the brand. While it has seen remarkable growth in recent years it still lags rivals Nike and Adidas when it comes to awareness and perception, particularly outside of the US.
In Europe, Under Armour's EMEA marketing boss Chris Carroll has done a lot of work to remedy that in the past year, tying the brand to rugby in a bid to become “part of the fabric of British culture”.
And despite not being an official sponsor during the Olympic Games it has been working hard to cash in on Rule 40 to get its brand name out there.
However, the foundations for something bigger are there after Under Armour ploughed millions into its digital ecosystem. Since 2014 ,it has 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 and Under Armour is betting heavily on this becoming the basis not only for a plethora of ways to communicate with athletes but also give it a bank of consumer insights it can readily tap into.
For a data-driven marketer like Donkin, this will be a goldmine.
He will also act as the perfect complement to his predecessor moving to the product side, ensuring that both product and brand are more entwined.
A shake-up at this level inevitably leads to the question of roster reviews. Droga5 has worked with the brand for years, although only recently became the official agency of record.
Few out there could rival what David Droga and his team have produced, such as the Cannes Lion smashing ‘I Will What I Want’ campaign featuring ballerina Misty Copeland and model Gisele Bündchen.
In Europe, however, Under Armour has not put much budget behind above-the-line activity, choosing social and experiential instead. Whether this strategy remains in place on Donkin’s arrival later this month (22 August) is yet to be seen.
If it does want to shift gears in the UK and beyond, a question mark remains whether Under Armour would look turn to Droga5 as its local shop.
The agency has suffered under the weight of a toublesome few years which saw a rebrand to Droga5 London (losing the Europe). However, it has been doing marginally better in recent months and an expanded brief from Under Armour could be what it needs to pull itself out of the slump.
Amazon, meanwhile, has declined to comment on Donkin's replacement or confirm if one has been found.