Brand is not a product, that’s for sure; it’s not one item. It’s an idea, it’s a theory, it’s a meaning, it’s how you carry yourself. It’s aspirational it’s inspirational.
Kevin Plank – CEO & Founder of Under Armour
The words of a man who understands brand management and development. Not only does Kevin Plank understand the sports business from a marketing stand point but product innovation too. The CEO and founder of Under Armour believes he can make a difference in the saturated sporting apparel market by using more innovative and smart marketing concepts.
Nike v Adidas: Attrition Warfare
The largest sporting brands are consistently breaking ground and trying to redefine the shortening advertising spaces. Nike, Adidas and Under Armour are just a few names vying to be athletes and fans choice of brand. Each company has been highly successful in developing products in various sports through the signing of various brand ambassadors to create innovative marketing campaigns. Each brand has their own unique selling point and message they are trying to portray but the universal similarity is the concept that every individual is an athlete, thus attempting to persuade individuals to buy into the ethos and ideology. Let us take a look at Nike’s marketing strategy and long standing strategy as an example. Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, the founders of Nike believed in their vision of being a product innovation company but natural changes in the market forced them to employ a strategy that involved bringing the brand to the forefront. The famous slogan ‘Just Do It’ has become one of the most recognizable slogan’s worldwide. Inspired and derived from the final words of a convicted murderer, co-founder of the long-serving advertising firm Wieden & Kenedy – Dan Wieden was inspired by this and claimed he conjured up the idea a day before the final pitch with the sportswear brand. The expression encourages the audience to take on challenges and take more risks. Nike and Adidas have maintained this philosophy throughout their various marketing campaigns with a majority of them utilizing individual catchphrase whilst maintaining the underlying message. ‘Risk Everything’, ‘Better For It’, ‘Write The Future’, ‘Impossible is Nothing’ and ‘All In’ are just a few of the examples that insinuate risk taking and reward. They have anticipated significant opportunities to grow in China and want to focus more on their women’s range in 2016. The women’s market has untapped potential that is there for the taking and it will not be long before everyone jumps on the bandwagon.
Impossible Is Nothing but Just Do It
It’s no secret that Nike and Adidas have had an enduring rivalry that shows no sign of slowing down. From lawsuits to headhunting designers, the two athletics wear brands have enjoyed a lion’s share of the possession of the sneaker, sportswear and most importantly the sponsorship market. Sporting good brands have now become heavily reliant on sponsorship to drive up sales and revenue. The industry has lately begun seeing a trend of becoming more fashion focused as well as performance based. It is no wonder the race to sign the most influential ambassadors has been hotly contested and shows their willingness at how fashionable, athletic clothing has become because of the control they have over fashion and cultural choices.
Adidas have signed on Kanye West, Rita Ora and Pharrell Williams to design and create their own range of clothing and sneakers to capture the hearts and mind of a new niche market. Branching out using superstar musicians that are famed in the European and American market gives Adidas an edge that none of their competitors have. Kanye West imp-articular is a controversial cultural phenomenon, who despite his divisive popularity, causes people to look at anything he does. His effect on many fans is profound who already consider him a lyrical genius and now a fashion icon who can do no wrong.
The 2014 FIFA World Cup finals in Brazil represented an all Adidas final with Germany beating Argentina to claim arguably the most decorated crown in team sports. If we look at the raw figures and values, Adidas is still second best against their American counterpart Nike – but only just. The German sportswear brand has battled on and signed on two of Nike’s prized global showpieces – Italian Champions Juventus on a €140,000,000 per year deal and more significantly a £750,000,000 deal lasting a whopping 10 years with English Footballing giants Manchester United. With the two European powerhouses and other global brands in their portfolio, it seems a matter of time before Adidas reclaims the status of market leaders in the sportswear division. Lionel Messi and Gareth Bale have both been signed on at Adidas whilst Nike has a larger range of world class athletes with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar Jr, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. These athletes are arguably the biggest superstars of their generation and it is no coincidence that Nike and Adidas have raced to sign them on lucrative contracts to endorse their products. Adidas may have slightly less star appeal but their brand loyalty and strong foothold over the European market gives them the edge there. Although, after witnessing these events take place, does anyone else have a chance?
Better Late Than Never
Under Armour is an American sport clothing and accessories company that specializes in producing T-shirts using synthetic fabrics for athletes to counteract sweat from sticking. With focus on the rapidly developing niche women’s market through major research and development, Under Armour propelled themselves to second place in the U.S sportswear market. Just as Nike and Adidas have established themselves with
high profile athletes and celebrities, Under Armour snapped rising talent such as the Carolina Panthers Quarterback Cam Newton and feisty ballerina Misty Copeland. Tom B
rady and Steven Curry add star appeal to a talented line up and German model – Gisele Bündchen is a surprise addition causing intrigue by representing the brand. How were they supposed to compete with the raw monetary and influential power of the market? By creating something unique and different. Under Armour’s most innovative and successful move was to focus on the women’s market and trying to create a campaign that would not only rectify their past mistakes but capture the niche markets that remained untouched. Bringing Gisele Bündchen on-board stirred controversy, with people branding the move as ‘sad’ and calling her ‘fake’. This is precisely what Under Armour expected and wanted to take the opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind marketing campaign featuring real time social comments made about the supermodel. The ad was aimed to portray women’s strength and empowerment, that despite all the negativity and doubt, that anything is possible if she wants it. Misty Copeland the fiesty American Ballerina was portrayed in a similar regard due to her tough ride into the Ballet world. She is the perfect example of the underdog striving for adversity and successfully climbing to the top. Her story started off by being told that Misty Copeland had all the wrong proportions to become a Ballerina but hard work and dedication bought her the success she has today. She was named the first American Ballet Theatre female principal dancer, the first African-American dancer to achieve the feat.
The campaign was highly successful and made extensive inroads into securing second place with $15 million earned in media, 1.5 billion digital footprints and a 28% increase in sales; this campaign made a real impact on Under Armour’s market position and exposure giving the sporting goods community a new high impact player to dislodge the two giants.
Pass & Move
What should these companies do to move towards total market domination and consistency? Innovation and evolution. The most successful innovation companies balance stellar marketing and dedicated research and development and introduce these behaviours and findings. Technology kings, Apple can be seen a prime example of constant innovation, sublime marketing and sustained success. The late Steve Jobs and new CEO Tim Cook have never lost track of the underlying vision that proved vital to their resounding success in recent years. Under Armour has really poured millions of dollars into research and development but has even come up with another unique method of creating new ideas by outsourcing it to its fans. It’s tech-savvy fan base are incentivized to design new products that could have a hand in UA’s future portfolio. The 2014 champion was an LED-equipped shirt created for nocturnal joggers that had no wiring and operated with moving magnets while the jogger runs. Light Bohrd the startup behind the idea earned a $25,000 investment and a contract to manufacture and distribute by Under Armour. Smart innovation is the key to success, having that combination of creative marketing and effective R&D, Under Armour has given us a glimpse of the future as we have seen with the “I Will What I Want” ad campaign featuring Gisele Bündchen.
The retail war between Nike and Adidas has been much more significant over the last decade through acquisitions, product releases, billion pound contracts and marketing with no end in sight. Under Armour’s approach has been a welcome and refreshing change but there is still a long way to go to before considering them as real challengers to Nike. Technological innovation has always played an important role for new sportswear products and design but it seems as though the focus has shifted from product enhancement to a marketing focused strategy, which isn’t to say that it is a wrong move but it takes away their focus. Changes in strategy aided in reasserting their dominance in the sporting goods industry. A dynamic market and economy demands change and evolution to survive and it is inevitable that others will challenge, as is the nature of any competitive environment but it should not come at the expense weakening the core principles that delivered success.