In an industry dominated for so long by brand name institutions such as Nike and Adidas, the sporting apparel brand Under Amour’s rise since its conception in 1995 by former University of Maryland Football captain Kevin Plank in the basement of his Grandmothers house has been nothing short of impressive. As of the end of the 2015’s calendar year Under Amour overtook sportswear giant Adidas to sit second only to Nike in the yearly US sales market.
Product of necessity
Under Armour’s very first apparel line came from Plank’s observations during football practice and games where the players would wear t-shirts under the uniforms and safety gear which would become soaked in sweat. At the time no other solution or options existed so Plank took it upon himself to create a solution using the N.C.A.A football system at his disposal for product testing and development. The outcome was a synthetic fibre material which helped disperse sweat and keep the athlete cool, dry and light, they named the line the HeatGear T-Shirt. This line was to become the cornerstone for Under Armour’s main core product offering.
The company’s value proposition to the high performance athlete market was simple; Under Armour wants to make all athletes better through passion, science and the relentless pursuit of innovation. The focus being on product performance and not on product value.
Brand strategies through association
Plank gave The Washington Post an interview in 2014 discussing the companies humble beginnings. Although he was beginning to see some traction in sales ($17000 in year one) Under Armour first major brand awareness opportunity came in the form of Hollywood director Oliver Stone and his movie ‘Any Given Sunday’. Stone was impressed with the
quality and appearance of the product, so much that he asked Plank to provide the sportswear for actors such as Jamie Foxx to wear during filming.
The upside for Under Amour was enormous with the exposure gained from this opportunity to be bigger than any marketing campaign they could afford at the time. The interesting twist is that Plank still asked Stone where he should send the check for the goods and justified this in the following quote:
“It’s a little know fact, but with Oliver Stone and Any Given Sunday, for all the exposure that we got from Cameron Diaz to Jamie Foxx’s jockstrap with the Under Armour logo in the center of it, that was something they paid over $40,000 for all the product that they bought from us. Don’t ever, ever devalue your product. Ever. It’s the worst thing anyone can do to hurt your brand. I had people threaten that if we didn’t give it to them, they wouldn’t wear it. But I’ve found that, if you make a great product, and you charge a fair price, there will be a market for it.”
Even when faced with the brands biggest opportunity for international exposure Plank refused to devalue his product to maintain Under Armour’s brand position that if you want quality you have to pay for it.
Under Armour has continued this strategy of brand associations focusing on professional athletes at the highest levels of their respective sports such as Jordan Speith (PGA Tour), Steph Curry (NBA), Tom Brady (NFL) and Lindsey Vonn (Downhill Skier). This brand association with these top-level athletes reinforces the company’s brand position in the market.
Product and Brand Development
Under Armour opened a whole plethora of new products and ‘value add’ opportunities in different sporting markets using the Umbrella Branding approach. Lets take golf for example, a sport were very few new brands, including Nike, struggle to break into the big leagues due to player loyalty to the long-established golf brands such as Callaway, Titliest and Taylormade. Under Armour have taken the approach of building a solid base for brand development throughout the sport focusing on the brands strengths in high performance golf shirts for all weather conditions. Now after three-years in the golfing market and a strong brand association with the worlds #2 player Jordan Speith Under Armour have offered additional ‘value add’ products such as belts, caps and golf gloves with 2016 being the year they release the first line of Under Armour golf shoes.
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