The Nike swoosh may be one of the most recognized logos in the world of sports, but the Under Armour logo (an interlocking U and A) is increasingly in the spotlight as the company gets noticed on and off the field. Founded in 1996 by Kevin Plank, once a member of the University of Maryland’s football team, Under Armour designs apparel and gear to help athletes feel and do their best in hot or cold weather, in sports arenas or on the track. How can a latecomer to a fast-growing industry dominated by global giants such as Nike get noticed? A little-known brand name was only one of Under Armour’s early challenges. Another was that many of its first products (such as undershirts that wick away moisture) were not actually visible to onlookers. In contrast, the logos of competing brands were visible and often prominent on athletic shoes, shirts, and caps. So the company initially positioned itself as “a brand for the next generation of athletes.” Whereas Nike was sponsoring well-known, established athletes, Under Armour’s sponsorships went to up-and-comers known for their dedication and athleticism. Its first endorsement deal was with a Dallas Cowboys football player who had been at University of Maryland with Under Armour’s founder. More recently, the company’s performance apparel has been spotted on endorsers such as Heather Mitts (soccer), Cam Newtown (football), and Derrick Williams (basketball). As its sponsored athletes do well, and their teams win games and even championships, Under Armour’s brand gains attention and visibility. Although not every rising star becomes a sports legend, the brand still gets exposure as these athletes receive media coverage, become established in their sports, and appear in Under Armour ads. Now that the company rings up more than $1 billion in yearly revenue from the sale of clothing, footwear, and accessories for men, women, and children, it can also afford some high-profile deals, such as being endorsed by Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. The Under Armour web site features the brand mission—“Make all athletes better”—and puts its “Universal guarantee of performance” in a conspicuous position, offering a full refund if customers are ever dissatisfied with a product for any reason. The diversity of models and athletes on the Under Armour site and in its ads, often shown participating in a sport, invites a broad range of consumers to identify with the brand. The close ties between Under Armour and the University of Maryland have led to additional opportunities for brand and product exposure. To grab attention and sell more team merchandise, college and professional football teams are switching to more fashionable uniforms and gear, with flashier colors and styles. As part of this trend, Under Armour has designed 32 different items for football players at the University of Maryland to wear. Fans, competing teams, and the media can’t help but notice the eye-catching combinations of shirts, pants, and helmets worn by team members on different days—with Under Armour’s now-familiar logo on each item. What’s ahead for Under Armour? The company is expanding into Europe and beyond, relying on distribution and marketing communications to reach more consumers, both casual and serious athletes. It’s using social media such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook to engage consumers, showcase its sports endorsers, and increase brand and product visibility. Just as important, new products are in the pipeline, along with new technology that enhances Under Armour’s differentiation.i Case Questions 1. What is Under Armour doing to make its brand personally relevant, surprising, and easy to process? 2. What role does objective and subjective comprehension play in Under Armour’s ability to market its products by sponsoring up-and-coming athletes? 3. Why would Under Armour want to be sure that consumers can clearly see different models as well as its mission and guarantee on the brand’s website?
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