Under Armour And The Best Ad Campaign Of The Year

Along with the NBA lockout came an inevitable domino effect: Owners and players couldn’t reach an agreement, so the players couldn’t play. Thus, the executives couldn’t sell tickets. The vendors couldn’t push products. The fans had no game action to rehash. The bloggers couldn’t blog (as well). And the critics and sportscasters were forced to push golf, tennis and soccer onto us – like we actually care about that nonsense. Fortunately, the recently agreed upon labor contract should ensure that the worst is behind us. Yes – after what felt like a whopping 149 years (not days), the NBA is finally back. But not all was cause for complaints during the extended offseason. Our beloved sportswear companies, responsible for lacing us up with the finest on-court and off-court accents, couldn’t quit their day jobs. So we were repeatedly reminded that basketball never stops. Word to Nike.

Basketball also never stopped at Under Armour, and the most important news in the company’s history was announced earlier today: UA is now officially marketing partners with the NBA. What exactly does that mean? This partnership enables them to use NBA jerseys and marks in promotions, advertising and in-store executions to promote their footwear.

“Partnering with the NBA allows us to showcase our innovative basketball footwear and roster of young, talented players through a platform that represents the pinnacle of the sport,” says Matt Mirchin, Senior Vice President of Global Sports Marketing at Under Armour in a release.

All of this comes on the heels of the company’s largest basketball campaign to date, the “Are You From HERE?” campaign that began on Nov. 1. Featuring intimate looks at what makes their basketball stars tick, UA showed the purity of the love of the game, expressing it vividly even during the dreadful lockout.

“We continue to be passionate about basketball and our new footwear, and the look, the feel, and sounds of this campaign fit our Brand perfectly,” says Steve Battista, Senior Vice President of Creative at Under Armour. “‘Are You From HERE?’ is more than a literal question about where you’re from, it’s about where you’re coming from. It’s about what’s inside you, what’s empowering you to be better every single day.”

Without question, Phil Knight‘s band of marketing gurus retained their title as reigning MVPs of athletic advertisement. However, if one company were a lock for the coveted MIP trophy (or the Kevin Love Award as it should forever be known post-2011) it would have to be Baltimore-based Under Armour. The post-draft acquisitions of the No. 2 and No. 9 picks, Derrick Williams and Kemba Walker, were just the beginning of an impressive offseason for the company poised to protect their house – and trample onto everyone else’s home turf.

Surging into the basketball footwear market in October 2010, Under Amour released the Micro G line. Though this was the performance company’s first official foray into basketball footwear, they adumbrated the move in late 2008 by signing Brandon Jennings – fresh out of high school en route to Italy. The move, unconventional by most standards, set the tone for Under Armour’s maturing status as an organization unafraid of rallying against the status quo. Instead of following adidas’ path into Nike’s shadows, CEO Kevin Plank – all of 39 years old – reinforces a youthful spirit in ad campaigns and the company’s growing roster of players, referring to Nike as “the old guys.”

One year into the basketball market and Under Armour has barely begun to hit their stride. Following the signing of Jennings came the addition of Venezuelan guard Greivis Vasquez (whom they had worked with at Maryland) and then Williams and Walker. Seemingly as soon as the latter two’s contracts were signed, Under Armour got to work. First, they made a splash by offering Jennings an internship in their Baltimore headquarters. Under the title “Curator of Cool,” Jennings acted as a liaison between street-cool youth and his equally young endorser. And then the campaign began.

The “Are You From HERE?” campaign is a vivid, beautifully shot viral television and print blitz featuring the company’s budding stars. The campaign refutes the idea of glitz and glamour in favor of the harsh realities that pave the road to success. When Jennings walks you into his mother’s house after a post-training meal of Roscoe’s Chicken ‘n Waffles, a connection between company and audience is formed – one far less superficial than random celebrity sightings and situational humor. The same can be said for Walker’s recently released spot, in which he takes you through the projects he grew up in. For two or so minutes, each player casts themselves as equal parts success story and spoken word poet. Contrived? A bit. After all, it’s hard to imagine Jennings waxing poetics in-between starring in coast-to-coast pickup games. But for those two minutes, you’re entranced; all of us victims, or perhaps beneficiaries, of Under Armour’s reality marketing.

This impressive – and ongoing – marketing display was accompanied by a three-city tour pitting Under Armour’s roster against top ranked East Coast high schools. The action, captured in Jennings’ “Under the Armour” viral series, filled a gaping hole in brand awareness left from a 149-day lockout. Now that the NBA is back, Under Armour will be faced with its steepest challenge: Standing out in an arena filled with swooshes and three stripes.

To me, Under Armour seems poised to run with the best sooner rather than later.

What was the best sneaker ad campaign you’ve ever seen?

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