Under Armour launches first major brand campaign

Tom Brady won another Super Bowl. Stephen Curry won an MVP and an NBA title. Jordan Spieth won the Masters and the U.S. Open. Misty Copeland became the first African-American to become a principal dancer at a major ballet company.

It has been a big year for Under Armour's most high-profile spokespeople, and the company this week will start to roll out its first major brand campaign featuring all of them. It's called "Rule Yourself," and the idea summons Malcolm Gladwell's theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice at something to be the best.

In the first spot, called "Anthem," the premise is accomplished through speeding up those hours by showing thousands of replicas of Curry, Spieth and Copeland going through their repetitions.

"We sat around [founder and CEO] Kevin Plank's table, and we talked about the momentum we've had this year, telling our brand story through the lens of the hottest athletes in the world, and the one thing that was constant, whether you are young or old, is that in order to be the best you have to train consistently on the field, court and gym and improve every day," said Adrienne Lofton, the company's senior vice president of brand marketing.

In the past year, the shots Curry takes before every game and his ball handling warm-up drill have received plenty of accolades. Less evident is what it took for Spieth to achieve his success, and, even more behind the scenes, what it took for Copeland -- often 10 hours daily in a studio.

Brady's spot, which takes on a similar theme, is still scheduled to make its debut in the coming weeks. Sources said his alleged role in "Deflategate" -- and his four-game suspension, which is under appeal -- never put him in jeopardy with Under Armour.

The spots were done in partnership with ad firm Droga5. The special effects were created by having five cameras focus on the athletes from different vantage points as they went through their motions. Computer-generated imagery was then used to give the effect of a thousand replicas.

Although direct sales from Brady, Curry, Spieth and Copeland are relatively small in the scheme of things, the momentum is palpable. Five years ago, Nike did 19 times the business Under Armour did. In 2015, that lead is expected to be cut to eight times. Footwear sales, most recently on the back of Curry's first signature shoe, has grown by 40 percent for each of the past four quarters, while its total golf business has doubled in the past two years.

Under Armour isn't making ballet gear, but Copeland -- as well as Brady's wife, Gisele Bundchen; skier Lindsey Vonn and soccer player Kelley O'Hara -- stands for a women's business that is growing at breakneck speed.

Spieth, who signed with Under Armour in 2013 and then re-signed a 10-year deal in January, hasn't had specific products hit the marketplace this year. Sales have risen, thanks to people buying the polo shirts he is wearing during the majors, one of the reasons visits to Under Armour's website are up 300 percent year over year, as in the second quarter.

Yet there is plenty of impatience in the marketplace. Some believe the company has left money on the table by not striking while the iron is hot. Under Armour filed to trademark Spieth's logo only last month.

"We were banking on Jordan all along," Lofton said. "It's not like he's an overnight sensation. The plan was to originally introduce Jordan with our brand and eventually move to a Jordan line, just like we did with Steph. We know, like with Steph, that if we have the right assets, the right athlete and the right category, it will be a match made in heaven."

The idea of focusing on training makes sense for Under Armour, because it can be argued that training makes up more than half of its total business. It also feeds into the company's digital strategy with connected fitness play. The company has spent $710 million in the past two years buying fitness-tracking companies.

Said Lofton: "Getting training right is big for us and is so critical to our total company success."