You release a new product into the market and instantly it gets panned. Not just in a subtle, no one seems to want to buy it way, but in an explosion of negative responses all over social media kind of way. What do you do?
That was the challenge facing the team at Under Armour earlier this month, when its new Curry Two Low sneaker – a white-on-white low-top attached to basketball player Stephen Curry – got a true Twitter roasting for being “uncool”. Now nicknamed the “Curry Chef” for its all-white, comfortable and functional kitchen appeal, it’s also been referred to as everything from a nurse shoe to a dad’s shoe. Not quite the market Under Armour is aiming for.
Speaking at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity today, David Droga, founder of Droga5, the agency of record for Under Armour, said: “When a hiccup like that happens, the usual client response is panic, retreat, mask or deny. In this case, the flurry of emails that came from [Kevin Plank, CEO and founder of Under Armour] said ‘this is potentially f*cking amazing, we should lean into this’. That’s exactly the sort of thing you want to hear. It’s not about panicking, it’s about how do you make something great?”
Plank, who was also on stage, admitted he was excited for the way in which it lit up Twitter, even as the sneaker was referred to as everything from a lawnmowing shoe to a barbecuing one. “I thought oh my gosh, after 20 years in business doing this, people finally care,” he said. “That is everything you’re trying to do in marketing… the worst thing in life is apathy; when no one cares if you show up or not. “
Under Armour celebrates 20 years in business this year and is on target to hit $5bn in revenue during 2016. Within that it’s been making footwear for 13 years and selling them for 10. “It’s taken a long tine to get to where we are now, but we’re still developing the company we want to be,” explained Plank.
He hopes to use the emotion driven from the launch of the Curry Two Low to move the business forward. It’s proof, he commented, that it’s no longer a two-horse race in footwear, but three – or in other words that Under Armour is now up there competing with Nike and adidas in that specific space.
Overall, Under Armour is now the number two sportswear brand in the US after Nike (it overtook adidas in early 2015). And that idea of competition and the competitive nature that Under Armour inherently has was discussed on a much broader scale too.
Plank referred to the idea of having moonshots, or big ambitions, in everything they do: “We don’t think about what if a competitor makes a new fleece upper; we think about what if Amazon and Apple and Google decide to start making clothes? When we challenge our product teams, we start there.” That future-proofing, provides them with the ability to never be on the back foot if competitors do release something, he said.
But ultimately his key message came down to always maintaining a point of view and having real belief in what you do. “You’re not a brand if you don’t have a point of view, in my opinion,” he noted. “And the brand is everything. The brand, the brand, the brand – everything comes back to the brand.”