By Barry Janoff
July 5, 2012: In 2011, Under Armour broke an advertising campaign with the ominous tag line, "Do you hear footsteps? Or are they hearing yours?"
On July 9, Under Armour will launch a national campaign to support Spine RPM, the company's new line of training and running footwear, with which it intends to have category leaders including Nike and adidas hearing footsteps.
The multi-media effort will star such Under Armour spokespersons as NFL players Tom Brady (New England Patriots), Cam Newton (Carolina Panthers) and Julio Jones (Atlanta Falcons), Olympic snowboarder Lindsey Vonn and Kemba Walker of the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats.
The "This is How We Run" campaign will include TV, print, outdoor, Internet, POP and social media. Lead agency is Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Miami.
The product and marketing will seek to extend Under Armour's success in activewear into the performance shoe category, taking direct aim at sales shares dominated by the likes of Nike, adidas, Asics, New Balance and Skechers. The Baltimore-based company said it has grown from $17,000 in revenue in 1996 to $1.47 billion in 2011.
The initial Spine line, now available nationwide, will expand to shoes for basketball, football, baseball and other specific sports, according to the company.
"We shown over the past seven years the need for another footwear company," Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank said during the Spine launch event in New York last month. Plank said the campaign would be the biggest in company history, which industry experts said would put it over $10 million. "Our mission statement is to make all athletes better," said Plank. "To have them do more than they did before they interacted with Under Armour."
Spine RPM has a proprietary spine cage sole design, and weighs in at 9.7 ounces. (MSRP is $99.99 for men's and women's shoes and $79.99 for youth.) By comparison, Nike is scheduled to hit retail this month with Flyknit, a 5.6-ounce running shoe; and adidas has adiZero running shoes that come in as light as 6.7 ounces.
Lightweight running shoes comprise about 25% of the overall running shoe market, up 20% from 2011, according to research and market advisory company SportsOneSource.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Matt Mirchin, svp-sports marketing for Under Armour, at a recent launch event in New York about the company's aggressive drive to support Spine RPM.
NYSportsJournalism.com: How did the people at Under Armour decide on the best way to get the news about Spine out to the public?
Matt Mirchin: It is a fully integrated campaign. That is what we wanted to accomplish with this. The way our consumers consume media is a little different from the way it was two years ago and certainly from the way it was ten years ago. It was important for us to have a presence on TV, so we will have that 30-second television commercial. But there will also be a massive in-store component, where people will see in-store featuring Tom Brady, Lindsey Vonn, Kemba Walker and Julio Jones. Cam Newton will be a big part of our print and in-store. From the digital and social media perspective, we will have Web site takeovers, major presence on social media destinations and a 60-second spot running online.
NYSJ: The MLB All-Star Game is July 10, and the Olympics begin at the end of the month, so will these events be part of the TV media buy?
MM: Beginning July 9, we are going to to go in a heavy rotation for the three weeks leading up to the Olympics. In the past what we have done is spread out our campaigns over about a 12-week period. This time, we will spend about the same amount of money but in a shorter period, during the three-month period in July. Speaking of baseball, Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals is an Under Armour endorser, and although he won't be part of this campaign, he has been wearing Spine shoes and is a strong advocate of the product. So when we expand in a baseball shoe line, he will be part of the marketing, possibly heading into Spring Training next season.
NYSJ: What is the message that Under Armour wants to convey to consumers?
MM: The great thing about the shoe is that it combines the best of being lightweight and functional. So if you want to go run, and you are going to run three, four, five or ten miles, you can wear these shoes to do that. And if you are going to do any training where you need a more stable shoe, Spine provides you comfort and the lightweight support but also gives you the stability that you need when you train. So we are getting out the message that this is a multi-purpose shoe. You'll see the athletes running and training.
NYSJ: What is the target audience for the shoe?
MM: The same demographic and target audience that buys Under Armour apparel. We want those people to now buy Under Armour footwear. We feel maniacally focused in talking to that target consumer. But what happens is that when we talk to those consumers, their influence spreads. So we certainly anticipate attracting consumers who would be new to Under Armour or who have been undecided about what type of running or training shoe to buy and are drawn to our message and to the quality of our product.
"We want people who buy Under Armour apparel to now buy Under Armour footwear. We feel maniacally focused in talking to that target consumer."
NYSJ: When you look at the category, the big guns are Nike and adidas, and there are other companies that have also carved out space. How does Under Armour plan to make its mark?
MM: Under Armour is a proven performance apparel company that is now getting into performance footwear. We have always had quality products that consumers rely on, so we are taking what we have established and carrying that into shoes. And we are supporting it with athletes who have proven to fans and consumers that they are dedicated to their sports and that they are willing to work hard and do what it takes to succeed.
NYSJ: Was the relatively recent expansion into football and baseball cleats a driving motivation to create performance shoes?
MM: We have had great success with our football and baseball cleats, where we have a significant market share. So we are using the technology and the power of our brand, coupled with the athletes who support us, to expand the brand. Consumers have come to us and come to the retailers that carry our products and asked us to create quality performance shoes. So in many ways we are responding to what consumers have already been asking for. We felt that gave us permission to move into this category.
NYSJ: How important is the social media aspect of your campaign?
MM: Very important. Our consumers are constantly using Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media destinations. When we introduced Spine, we had our athletes use Twitter to help get the word out. As the campaign progresses, we will encourage interaction between our athletes and consumers, and also encourage consumers to follow us on social media for information.
NYSJ: Spine is certainly a unique name for a shoe brand. Was that always the working title for the line?
MM: When we were looking at possible concepts, our designers looked at elements in life such as bat wings and helicopter blades. But the human spine was really the element in nature that we felt would translate best into the type of shoe we wanted to create. We actually had a lot of debates over the name, and whether or not Spine was marketable and commercial. One of the strong points is that it is unique and different. Our discussions always came back to the idea that Spine accurately described the shoe, especially when you turn it over and look at the Spine Cage sole. It translates into something that people will remember. And when you go into market with a new product, and when you are seeking to take market share in a crowded category, you want all of those attributes in your favor.
NYSJ: Are you finding that Under Armour comes up in conversations among consumers more often than ever?
MM: I want to answer that as humbly as possible. One of our mottos is 'Stay Hungry. Be Humble.' When you talk to consumers, especially those 18 and older, some prefer our brand, some prefer other brands. But when you get into that seven-, eight-, nine-, ten-year-old consumer, they don't understand that we've only been around for a short period of time. They look at some our competition as being their parent's brands. When they look at the young athletes we have signed — Kemba Walker, Cam Newton, Julio Jones, Bryce Harper, [light-middleweight boxing champion] Saul Alverez — these young consumers look at Under Armour as their brand, as the brand of their generation. Those kids are growing with us, growing up wearing Under Armour apparel and now Under Armour shoes. We are their brand of choice. And that's where we believe we will win.