This is despite the World Cup where Adidas are an official sponsor. They are now only behind Nike. But with 22 successive quarterly profit increases, surely it’s a matter of time before they overtake them too. Americans love an underdog and that’s where Under Armour began and is positioned against the much more conservative and corporate Nike, Adidas and Puma.
Under Armour is a classic rags to riches story. The creator, Kevin Plank, founded the company out of a real need for sports people to be dry while sweating. He created a revolutionary new T-shirt built from microfibers that wicked moisture that kept athletes cool, dry, and light.
In a class piece of business acumen Plank created a new subcategory of fitness clothing that stays fresh and dry—and dominated it. Today, Under Armour has a 75 per cent market share of this category.
A year after he created the company and using all of his credit card, debt and savings, he was broke. Then, as is often the case, he got a lucky break, well earned. Luck does after all favour the brave and foolish. His local American Football team bought some of his merchandise from him and various NFL teams followed suit.
His really big break came when Warner Brothers bought his apparel to kit out the teams in the Al Pacino film Any Given Sunday. It was a classic case of product placement without Under Armour paying for it but receiving the benefit. Millions saw the brand and wanted to know more about it. And in true word-of-mouth fashion the product went viral and became a billion dollar business.
I love the passion of the man behind the brand. He now gives great presentations on how to become an entrepreneur. His motto is “You need to put your hands around the throat of your business, and you need to run it. There’s no other way.”
He has another great saying “We were smart enough to be naive enough to not know what we couldn’t accomplish”. I love that saying because it embodies so many hopes and dreams of entrepreneurs.
Plank also takes a saying from the Sony Chairman (which is very ironic), “Perfection is the enemy of innovation”. This is so true.
Many wannabe entrepreneurs wait to have that perfect idea rather than going with their instinct or going with a product or service that they can improve through time and experience. The lesson here is obvious, go for it and figure it out along the way. Tomorrow may never come.
The brand’s fantastic strapline is “I will”. Feel the intensity just with that message. “I will”.
Not “just do it” or “impossible is nothing”. This is a real set of values that athletes of all kinds can live by. “I will”. It also applies to starting your own business.
This is not a brand for people who are obese and wear a sports brand as a tracksuit out of laziness. This is a “can do” brand. “I will” sends out that message. Under Armour stands for relentlessly overcoming obstacles and becoming winners on the field. The brand essence revolves around being the underdog, being hungry, competing against the best and winning.
Under Armour have always been very brand focused. Their first advert in 2003 featured EricOgbogu, a former NFL player. He famously shouts "We Must protect This House" which has become “I will.” This statement has broader relevance and goes beyond team challenges to individual ones too.
Under Armour strategically featured a few under-the-radar athletes in order to compete with Nike. These athletes exemplified authenticity and personality without being expensive.
They have also taken a leaf out of Apple’s book by opening flagship stores in places like Singapore and Shanghai that is all about the experience which in turn leads to positive word of mouth and brand kudos.
Under Armour have also focused continually on innovation. They don’t merely brand items to sell and ride on the back of their growing brand popularity. They work with scientists to create better sports gear to make better athletes.
One of their core values is “how to make an athlete better”. They also believe in the value “how to make you look cooler”. The combination of the two is irresistible to passionate athletes.