After years of pushing its products and tech, Under Armour is re-investing in its central brand with a new global platform and its first foray into podcasting.
Its latest campaign, ‘The Only Way is Through’, aims to realign the sports label as one that truly understands athletes’ drive to push limits – to break “through” pain and mental barriers.
It features a wide array of star athletes, including basketball MVP Stephen Curry, swimming legend Michael Phelps and volleyball world champion Zhu Ting, who star in a fast-cut hero film that places them all in their natural, blood-pumping environments.
It was created in-house under chief marketing officer Alessandro de Pestel and vice-president of global brand creative, Brian Boring.
Boring said it was important for this campaign to be built internally, given it is not just a seasonal initiative. The in-house agency, which he dubbed a “muscle” that is growing again after leaning on various agencies for the past decade, was tasked with “re-centering” the brand around an emotional focal point.
This led to the creation of an entirely new global platform.
“In the last few years we've thrown a lot of different campaigns out there and we’re thrown a lot of different messaging out into the marketplace,” said Boring. “A lot of it was product focused and a lot of it was category focused, and we didn't really have one centralized theme that all of our athletes and out brand could rally around.
“That's something we'd done really well in the past and we wanted to get back to that. We wanted to make sure we had one central idea that all of our storytelling could ladder off of and just get back to what makes us really strong.”
This regrouping comes at a salient time for the business. Former chief operating officer Patrik Frisk was named chief executive on 1 January after incumbent Kevin Plank stepped back into the role of chairman and brand chief.
The announcement of the C-suite reshuffle came on Under Armour’s Q3 2019 results, which – despite beating guidance – caused stocks to dip. The earnings led Yahoo to dub the company ‘a brand in crisis’, while a number of commentators took the 4% drop in North America revenues as a sign the brand was struggling to compete with the likes of Nike and Adidas.
So now, the company is taking its commitment to high performance athletes and placing it front and center of its campaigns, rather than letting its technical innovations and fashion trends take the spotlight. Other brands, he believes, "are not as dedicated" to this kind of consumer.
This strategy will be supported by a "360-degree approach to marketing", said Frisk.
"We'll go and market ourselves across every channel that we need to market ourselves across to make sure that we're increasing consideration with the consumer," he told investors in November.
"It will be a holistic approach to both upper-funnel marketing and also sports moments marketing, where you'll see Under Armour show up where our athletes show up."
Under Armour has put significant investment behind ‘The Only Way is Through’, flying teams around the globe to capture its roster of athletes in their natural environments and cashing out on a wide-ranging media plan.
Alongside out-of-home and OTT streaming buys, the brand is trialing new formats in order to get consumers engaging deeper with its athletes and – consequently – the brand. It’s launching its first podcast with iHeartRadio, which will act as a platform for elite athletes to tell stories of their training success.
The series, which will launch as an eight-parter, will be hosted by the lauded intererviewer Call Fussman. Boring hopes the format will offer up a “captive audience” and allow the brand to experiment with long-form storytelling for the first time.
Similarly, Under Armour has brokered a deal with The Players' Tribune, where the brand’s stars will write about their experiences in sport. It’s also ramping up its investment in experiential in order to give consumers better access to its athletes, trainers, grassroots and collegiate partners.
“And we’re doing some unique, longer format storytelling through YouTube,” said Boring.
“So, we have many different formats and lots of different content. It's going to sustain throughout the year – it's big, it's powerful and we're really excited about it.”