Surging into the basketball footwear market in October 2010, Under Amour released the Micro G line. Though this was the performance company’s first official foray into basketball footwear, they adumbrated the move in late 2008 by signing Brandon Jennings – fresh out of high school en route to Italy. The move, unconventional by most standards, set the tone for Under Armour’s maturing status as an organization unafraid of rallying against the status quo. Instead of following adidas’ path into Nike’s shadows, CEO Kevin Plank – all of 39 years old – reinforces a youthful spirit in ad campaigns and the company’s growing roster of players, referring to Nike as “the old guys.”
One year into the basketball market and Under Armour has barely begun to hit their stride. Following the signing of Jennings came the addition of Venezuelan guard Greivis Vasquez (whom they had worked with at Maryland) and then Williams and Walker. Seemingly as soon as the latter two’s contracts were signed, Under Armour got to work. First, they made a splash by offering Jennings an internship in their Baltimore headquarters. Under the title “Curator of Cool,” Jennings acted as a liaison between street-cool youth and his equally young endorser. And then the campaign began.
The “Are You From HERE?” campaign is a vivid, beautifully shot viral television and print blitz featuring the company’s budding stars. The campaign refutes the idea of glitz and glamour in favor of the harsh realities that pave the road to success. When Jennings walks you into his mother’s house after a post-training meal of Roscoe’s Chicken ’n Waffles, a connection between company and audience is formed – one far less superficial than random celebrity sightings and situational humor. The same can be said for Walker’s recently released spot, in which he takes you through the projects he grew up in. For two or so minutes, each player casts themselves as equal parts success story and spoken word poet. Contrived? A bit. After all, it’s hard to imagine Jennings waxing poetics in-between starring in coast-to-coast pickup games. But for those two minutes, you’re entranced; all of us victims, or perhaps beneficiaries, of Under Armour’s reality marketing.
This impressive – and ongoing – marketing display was accompanied by a three-city tour pitting Under Armour’s roster against top ranked East Coast high schools. The action, captured in Jennings’ “Under the Armour” viral series, filled a gaping hole in brand awareness left from a 149-day lockout. Now that the NBA is back, Under Armour will be faced with its steepest challenge: Standing out in an arena filled with swooshes and three stripes.
To me, Under Armour seems poised to run with the best sooner rather than later.
What was the best sneaker ad campaign you’ve ever seen?
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