under armour

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Coca-Cola, one of the world’s great marketers, is in a category under attack.  I love the brand but don’t love what it does to consumers who misuse the product. That is, drink it in excess while living a sedentary lifestyle.  Those who make sure the calories that go in are negated by the calories burned are those with healthy body sizes.

Coke ran a print ad today suggesting 4 ways to mitigate its high sugar, high calorie sodas. 1. Offer low calorie beverages. 2. Provide proper nutritional labeling, 3. Help people get moving and excercise, and 4. Don’t advertising to kids.

The traditional Coke bran plan  — Wieden+Kennedy and current brand management aside — has always been about refreshment. (Happiness is the new idea is happiness.)  Refreshment is best served in video and print when it’s hot out.  Active sports people used to be ownable, not so much anymore; thanks to Nike and Under Armour and hundreds of other marketers. Frolicking on beaches and at picnics, were good refreshment images. Bright sunny days.

Coke can use its advertising today in a more positive way if it focuses on refreshment — showing scenarios of active people exerting themselves. That should be a fundamental brand plank. Enough flowers pooping more flowers and musical whimsy choreographing beetles. Coke refreshes. It is best when refreshing people who are fit, who crave refreshment and exert themselves. Or who at least aspire to exert themselves.

Coke is growing outside the US because in developing countries people don’t overeat. They walk and do manual labor. Come on man!  Let’s get back to why people need Coke, not sell it based upon what shareholders need. Peace!

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Under Armour is introducing two new sneaker designs (May I call them sneakers?) this week in an attempt to increase its share of the $22B athletic footwear (sneakers) market.  A market, by the way, that was only about $3B in 1993.  The TV campaign handled by Twofifteen McCann and Digiteria for digital offers a lot of smart tactics: the director of Friday Night Lights, a YouTube takeover to reach the younger buyers, limited distribution to build demand, Cam Newton, and an idea that ties sneakers to sports action – FootstepsAs smart as these tactics are, they feel like a pastiche of forced-together marketing tools from an Effie Awards Annual. I suspect they will work, however.

First and foremost though, one must ask if footwear is a business Under Armour wants to be in.  I say no. And I’ve said so before in WTI.  Sunglasses? No as well. UA founder Kevin Plank, in his heart knows this.  He owns a franchise that is now being diluting.  You can’t keep sticking the same tea bag in new water.  The company already owns fast twitch muscle, form fitting wicking shirts but will lose that ownership as it takes its eyes off the ball. Wicking sneaker tops?  Not so sexy.  Lindsey Vonn. Oh yeah.

Mr. Plank’s next move should be into form fitting shorts and shirts for the fashion conscious market.  Leave the kicks to Nike.  Or start a new footwear endemic company  This is one brand extension that might sell some shoes near term, but is going to turn Under Armour into a brand in decline overall.  And it’s sad.  Stop playing with feet! Peace.

(Picture from NY Times.)

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I love Under Armour.  I do. It’s an amazing, important brand. If the company didn’t invent compression shorts, it certainly gets credit for it.  The story is great, the product meaningful, and the company with its Baltimore provenance has people rooting for it.  Sports apparel is a category alone in its ability to push through the recession and Under Armour is leading that growth. Under Armour owns the “hard body.” But image-wise, it’s operating in a competitive field with players spending a lot more money.  Gatorade and Nike were first to hard body. Though all three focus on the flesh, sinew and sweat, Under Armour focus should be on the packaging (of that body).

Women’s Sports Apparel

Now Under Armour is amping up it targeting of women, who account for only 25% of sales. It is doing so by extending with the “I will” and “Protect this House I will” brand idea.  Don’t get me wrong, the imagery and music is rousing and I love Lindsey Vonn, but the brand idea is not tight enough to slap a pair of balls on some women’s training footage and make a lasting Under Armour product statement. Were I women watching the spots, I’d be inclined to go out and buy some Gatorade.

Under Amour’s Focus

Under Armour also brand extended into sneakers, cleats and sunglasses — a couple of moves which have hurt serious brand development. There is an amazing, ownable brand idea waiting for Under Armour to claim.  It has made to order brand planks, all of which can be mapped to its DNA…and it is unique to the category. Write me for the idea, if you haven’t figured it out already. Peace.

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Running barefoot.

The next big thing in running shoes will be bare feet. You heard it here first. Going commando below the ankles.  It’s so Amerind, so American (with a little Kenyan mixed in). When Under Armour decided the footwear and sneaker category is “dormant” and in need of another marketer, I knew I was right. 

I’m no physician, but you’ve got to know that running barefoot (gum, nails and glass aside) is better for your feet than running in some cheesy Chinese rubber and lace concoction. Runners who toughen their feet over time and go shoeless will enjoy better foot health, look way cooler and save money. It will happen. It’s just a matter of time. Don’t tell Nike. Peace!

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Just Do All.

I sit in my cube today in a red St. John’s tee-shirt, Levi’s jeans, and a pair of black high-top Chuck Taylor’s. St. John’s, my favorite college basketball team, is a university for whom I’ve done some strategy work.  Nike has also done a good deal of work for St. John’s.  In fact, their design team came up with the new sports logo. If you are in marketing you know about Nike’s brilliance. 
That said, today Nike is in trouble.  Remember the aforementioned Chuck Tailor’s? They squeak. When Converse was wholly owned, they didn’t squeak.  Now Nike owns “Cons.” Squeak, squeak. Nike is losing focus. They design logos for college basketball teams, re-design uniforms, and even sell golf balls. Nike is now trying to reinvent the tee-shirt, looking at 74 neck variations and changing the wicking properties so they can charge $25 per swoosh.
The WSJ tells us Nike is re-focusing on core, higher margin products. Here are the categories on which they are focusing: basketball, running, soccer, sports lifestyle, men’s training and women’s products.  If that’s focus, I’m Greg Oden.  Under Armour is a company with focus. They will be the next Nike.

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