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#SXSW: UnderArmour usurps Nike as poster child for digital mktg

Last year UnderArmour and their agency won a slew of Cannes Lions for their ‘I will what I want’ campaign, featuring Giselle Bundchen. The Harvard Business Review featured an article this month by Douglas Holt, calling out that same campaign for social media excellence, because it “shows how to combine celebrity sponsorships and cultural branding to create content with impact”. But it’s not just in the area of marketing campaigns that UnderArmour is leading the pack.

UnderArmour provides a fantastic case of a company that has truly transformed itself through technology. At a time when every business is under pressure to transform, to better harness the power and promise of technology, UnderArmour is writing the playbook.

On stage at SXSW in Austin this last week, Doug Ziewacz, head of North America Media & Advertising for the sportswear brand, declared, “We’re a tech company”. He has good reason to say this – UnderArmour made three acquisitions in two years pulling together Endomondo, My Fitness Pal and Map my Fitness – best in class personal fitness apps that already had a strong user base of 165 million people between them (more than 4x the number of nike+ active users). Together with UnderArmour they now form ‘Connected Fitness Media Group’ and power the world’s largest digital health and fitness community.

UnderArmour has created the ‘Health Box’, a beautifully-designed kit including scales, heart rate monitor, a smart wrist band and an account with a personalised dashboard which measures how you sleep, what you eat, your daily activity and your fitness levels. Importantly, the dashboarding tool is smart enough to start telling you how to improve. With this, Underarmour has a sophisticated ecosystem of products and tools that build useful and deep relationships with those looking to lead a healthy and active lifestyle.

Kevin Plank, the company CEO who took to the main stage at SXSW, credits consumers with leading the company to pursue technology and data. “Consumers asked us to do this”. He told the audience that in 1998 when he was looking for office space and was asked whether he was a tech company, his answer was “Well I have a website…!”, now his company has the world’s largest health and fitness community and the potential to double in size by 2017.

UnderArmour’s mission is “Making all athletes better through innovation”. And the relevance to sports attire? Well, this is where the future looks really exciting for the brand. Like Nike, UnderArmour is already providing smart shoes to track your running. It’s very easy to imagine – and big hints were being made at SXSW -about the arrival of next-generation UnderArmour clothing. Imagine a T-Shirt that integrates the sensors required to measure and send data currently collected by heart monitors, wrist bands or smart watches.

Kevin Plank describes his UnderArmour products as being “like a super power” for those who use them – his brand is certainly demonstrating its super power status amongst marketing and technology observers.

Josie Brown

Josie Brown is J. Walter Thompson Asia Pacific’s Head of Digital. Josie has worked as a digital specialist in Europe and Asia for over 15 years. Her "client-side" experience at Lufthansa and later P&G focussed on maximising digital marketing to grow revenue and consumer engagement. Josie started working at JWT in 2011 and leads the digital function across the JWT APAC region to partner with clients on digital strategy and implementation.