I have to admit that I really dig Under Armour. They are the epitome of a company that feels like me living in Memphis and watching the Grit and Grind era of the Grizzlies (UA had Mike Conley and underutilized him in a Nike run city). Under Armour is the upstart company that kicked in the door with a brash statement that, “We Must Protect This House!” It was a subversive startup that didn’t want to be in the front. It wanted to be beneath the surface of all of the fitness and athletic goals of a nation. A better performance tee shirt, better performance apparel, that was a compliment to your uniform. You could still be Team Nike, adidas, or Reebok, but underneath it all Under Armour was your first layer of defense.
It was this subversive entrance that allowed the brand to be worn by endorsers of other brands. Under Armour went through a backdoor of a security system that overlooked the most basic element of performance apparel, the tee. As the brand grew and began incorporating other items on their way to becoming a prize stock and amazing growth company, they developed relationships with athletes outside of the mainstream initially. The first Under Armour endorser for basketball was a kid from Compton who skipped college and played in Rome before entering the NBA draft. Brandon Jennings introduced the world to Micro G Cushioning, but it wasn’t enough to really inspire. Under Armour’s basketball division languished until a role player for Golden State Kenneth Bazemore told an often injured shooting guard who wore Nike to come to the brand. That Shooting guard became an All Star and a two time MVP launching Under Armour basketball into the clouds… And this is where the story gets stuck in a thunderstorm.
2016 Was The Year Under Armour Failed Steph Curry
In the spring of 2016 Under Armour became the meme brand. The Chef Curry 2 Low in all white was flamed by everyone in the world. People who didn’t even watch basketball or know anything about Steph were repeating the phrase, “What Are Those?” Under Armour did nothing to put the fire out. They embraced the negative attention and Curry himself wore the shoes to press conferences. Under Armour took a solid performer in the Curry 2 and introduced a Curry 2.5 and that model tanked. The failure of the 2.5 transitioned into a horrible summer and fall launch of the Curry 3. Sneaker analysts and data driven companies chalked it up to the basketball performance market struggling to keep up with the trends. My data showed something completely different. The Curry 3 could sell with the correct copy and promo. The proof is in the following post.
I’ve had success selling the brand. I wrote the above article after I did an analysis of the launch of the Curry 3. While data analysts are looking at performance being down, just analyzing the numbers fails to take into consideration why a shoe like the Curry 3 isn’t performing as well as the two previous models. In this article below I give a play by play of how the release of the Curry 3 has taken place.
Why is 2016 the year Under Armour failed Curry and basically hurt the trajectory of the brand? It’s self-sabotage. The Curry 1 coincided with the revelation of Steph Curry as an All Star. On the way to a championship season, and an MVP season, the baby faced assassin created memorable moments that took Golden State from nothing to everything. There was a built in marketing machine. People who didn’t watch basketball tuned in to see a God fearing, non-tattooed, non-threatening, family man lead a team that looked more like a varsity high school program than an NBA team full of threatening Black men (yeap I said it). Curry was the face of Under Armour and the NBA and it was perfect. He wasn’t a 6-8 brute with his life story told on his body. Parents wanted their kids to be like Steph and girls wanted to be Ayesha Curry. Under Armour barely had to market and they didn’t do much with Curry initially. Prior to the Curry 1 in 2014 Curry was wearing the same shoes as Will Barton and other UA endorsers and Under Armour only marketed him during the NOLA All Star weekend. He wasn’t a signature player… yet.
The signature shoes were coming and with Steph beginning to break out, Under Armour finally gave Curry a big time marketing event with the How It Ends video which was the best performing video for Under Armour next to Misty Copeland’s I Will What I Want. This is 2014 and just three years ago video hadn’t become the primary marketing machine that it is today. It was important however. Content creation was important. Even today Under Armour has yet to figure out the aspect of marketing that reaches people. There are absolutely zero promotional elements for Under Armour Basketball front and center on their website. Footwear is probably the only place that Under Armour can grow. At 700,000 a year they have a very small part of the footwear market, so there is the opportunity for serious growth.
That’s moving ahead. In 2014 Curry was becoming CURRY.
Under Armour, like every brand that has a basketball division, relies completely on the NBA to promote their brand. They do an extremely bad job of marketing on behalf of the athletes who have signature shoes and the shoes worn in the sport. Basketball shoe sales are down because every brand has an antiquated approach to marketing.
The Curry 1 had ELEVEN video campaigns to align with the amazing coverage generated from Curry’s championship and first MVP run.
Between the release of the Curry 2 and the end of the Curry 1 there were 5 campaigns abroad. Basically in the first year of Curry’s signature release there was 16 campaigns promoting Curry. SIXTEEN!!!!
The Curry 2 release was kicked off with a dope collab with Jamie Foxx that garnered 1 million views, but dropped to only 5 video campaigns prior to the 2.5 being released. Between the time when the 2 launched and the 2.5 released Under Armour shifted their entire focus to their digital catalog of investments. This is where they killed Curry with an emphasis on the investments that didn’t garner any interest from the consumer market. The brand literally gave up on their golden goose because over investment in digital had to be promoted to make sense to shareholders.
The 2.5 had 1 video and the Warriors failed in the championship game to the Cavs. This is in 2016. Under Armour allowed Curry to completely disappear by promoting him internationally with a tour in Asia. This transition into the Curry 3 had very little promotion at all and the release was even worse. (See the link above for 10 things wrong with Curry 3)
There has been one campaign created for Steph Curry by Under Armour on the Curry 3; ONE, in September. The shoe has been available for over six months and the launch didn’t have any in store campaign merchandising and nothing to support the line in social media and the website currently has ZERO promotion of the Curry on the home/splash page. Add to this that Curry has been diminished by Kevin Durant’s arrival and you get a shoe that is currently being discounted to sell. You get a basketball performance division that hasn’t added another signature athlete and has completely failed their current signature athlete. You get a brand that has an owner that flirted with aligning himself with an unlikable President and his star endorsers coming out against that alignment.
In 2016 Under Armour failed Steph Curry and in doing so, they’ve failed themselves.
Steph Curry is the most marketable player in the NBA. If Brita, JBL and Chase can implement Steph into campaigns that build brand awareness, why is UA refraining from treating Steph the same as they did in Year 1 of his signature release? If SC30 has ten or more video and marketing campaigns dedicated to him the Curry 3 would sell. I don’t care if basketball performance is down overall in the market. Interestingly enough, this article could be written about every basketball brand. Marketing has shifted. The brands are creating incredible campaigns for runners, classics and retros and Under Armour doesn’t have this opportunity, they do have Steph and an opportunity to craft a strong narrative.