The big idea: Kevin Plank has taken Under Armour from a business run out of his grandmother’s Washington basement to a global athletic wear empire in just two decades.
By 2013, Under Armour had expanded from breathable, wicking football shirts to shorts, shoes, uniforms and even hats, and was a success within the men’s athletic-wear market, competing with powerhouses such as Nike and Adidas.
In 2013, Under Armour had $2.3 billion in sales, yet only $500 million came from women’s apparel. Plank was ready to expand.
The scenario: Although Adidas had previously failed to create a successful digital campaign to attract women, Plank took a risk by pursuing viral promotion. Debuting in July 2014, the “I Will What I Want” campaign first featured American Ballet Theatre ballerina soloist Misty Copeland dancing as a voice-over reminisced about how she was rejected by a top ballet academy at age 13 for having the “wrong body for ballet.”
The YouTube ad went viral with 4 million views in the first week. Audiences spent an average of four minutes on the Under Armour website during the campaign’s peak.
The campaign continued, featuring other known women such as supermodel Giselle Bunchen, which was a second risk. Signing a famous name to a brand has been found to increase a company’s sales by just $10 million annually and increase the company’s stock returns by only 0.25 percent.
Of the 100 most-shared video advertisements of all time, only 13 percent had celebrities in them.
But it worked for Plank.
The “I Will What I Want” campaign’s success surpassed what Under Armour had imagined. It produced 5 billion media impressions worldwide and a staggering $35 million in earned media, resulting in a 28 percent increase in women’s sales and a 42 percent increase in traffic to UA.com.
The resolution: Targeting the female market with this viral campaign proved to be a winning strategy for Under Armour.
Following the success, it surpassed Adidas and moved from the No. 3 spot in the U.S. sportswear market to No. 2 today, second to Nike.
Plank has said he plans to make the company a $10 billion brand by 2020. To do so, he’s doubled down on digital by launching a mobile shopping app and investing $1 billion in Connected Fitness. The company has invested in relationships with athletes such as Cam Newton, Steph Curry and Lindsey Vonn.
The lesson: Can marketing moves drive business in women’s athletic apparel sales? Twenty-four consecutive quarters of 20 percent-plus revenue growth answers the question.
Murray is a digital marketing consultant who teaches in the marketing area at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.