Under Armour’s senior vice-president of digital believes the sportswear label should “not only serve as a brand but also a publisher” and has pegged Amazon as a key partner as it seeks to legitimize itself in the fitness content space.
Jim Mollica, the sports brand’s senior vice-president of global consumer engagement and digital, is a proponent of the traditional agency model when it comes to big brand campaigns. His company’s relationship with agency of record Droga5 has endured more than five years and resulted in a number of creative award wins.
However, he has gradually been “augmenting” this work with a content marketing strategy delivered primarily in-house. Globally, his consumer engagement team of more than 100 staff now creates around 250 pieces of video content a month. Collectively, these spots now garner 150m views a year.
The strategy has been driven by Under Armour’s desire to become 'the world's largest digitally connected health and fitness community', according to its recently-released five-year strategy.
The push began in 2013 when it acquired MapMyFitness, before going on to add EndoMondo and MyFitnessPal to the portfolio in 2015. Now, the company is experimenting in futuristic products, such as connected shoes that will monitor distance and stride length to help prevent injury.
“We've found it necessary ... on the connected fitness side, to not only serve as a brand there but also a publisher,” Mollica told The Drum. “We have probably 50m monthly [unique visitors] that interact with our health and fitness platform, and that's through both utility and content.”
He explained the latter spans from “healthy eating recipe to training videos to motivational pieces”. For the sake of speed and efficiency, his in-house team regularly works with “independent content creators and production companies”, rather than advertising agencies.
Mollica, who previously worked for Ralph Lauren and Viacom, believes the speed at which Under Armour pumps out content to be unique among apparel brands.
“I have agile teams that are focused on rapid fire, test and learning across the globe on everything from content types, formats and messaging all the way down to conversion shopping metrics,” he explained. “The idea is to ... get to the consumer and learn from them, as quickly as we possibly can, and then build the related experiences that drive value.”
Confident that he has fine-tuned the machinations of digital and social content, the SVP is eyeing voice as the next piece of the puzzle. It makes sense in the context of wearables: users of Under Armour products – be they digital or physical – need to use them hands-free when out exercising or cooking in the kitchen. Mollica has also placed e-commerce high up on the voice agenda alongside brand building through the likes of podcasting and “motivational, or question and answer information”.
Amazon and its product will be key to the success of both these goals. It is already “a very close partner” of Under Armour, and Mollica imagines a future "where you're on MapMyFitness, and you've run 400 miles and it's time to get a new pair of shoes, and you're told you have an instant replenishment coming through” thanks to Amazon.
Is Under Armour already setting up a shoppable platform between the retail giant and, say, MyFitnessPal, which allows users to plan meals and track calories?
“It's a naturally progression of a partnership but I'm not sure I can say what we have in store,” Mollica said. “Right now on the Alexa platform we don't have anything available, but the interesting thing about voice is how it was brought into the home and where it was placed – places like the kitchen, the exercise room, or a bedroom.
“It leads to natural behaviors – you can start to dissect how people will use voice in those environments. We have plenty of health and fitness applications for them to use and I think that will be on our road map with Amazon.”
But a partnership already in action is Under Armour’s relationship with Twitch, the live gaming platform owned by Amazon. The brand launched its Curry 4 ‘More Buckets’ shoe on NBA’s Twitch Channel last December, hosting nine gaming influencers for a tournament of NBA 2K18 matches at its headquarters in Baltimore.
Additionally, the sneakers were made available as a digital purchase at the in-game Foot Locker store.
It may seem incongruous to tap the virtual gaming world in order to sell sportswear, but Mollica pointed out the fan bases of both are now largely aligned.
“Our core demographic loves gaming and the gaming mechanic is a massive driver of engagement and behavioral change,” he said “We’re using gaming mechanics in our apps to help people better themselves and [increasing] personal motivation by connecting them with a community.
“And [our consumers] are not watching a lot of live TV – they're not in these media consumption patterns we would call ‘normal’ years ago. I think we'll continue to look for interesting opportunities to partner with Twitch and build those out.”