How Under Armour Delivered a Champion 30th July, 2015

With brands becoming fixated on trialing creative across a plethora of digital channels with mixed engagement success, it is easy to overlook the value of athletes in respect to capturing the consumer. Athlete sponsorship is now as competitive as the sports themselves, with the biggest brands in the world battling to obtain the best athletes – a key reason why athlete sponsorship deals are more lucrative than ever.

During the last decade Nike and Adidas have gained a stronghold on the sporting market utilising established sports stars to endorse their brands. This spend surpasses most other brands requiring them to become more resourceful to obtain the same benefits enjoyed through a high level brand ambassador partnership. Talent acquisition is crucial.

The big success story of 2015 has undeniably been Under Armour and its association with the new golfing sensation, Jordan Spieth. Under Armour originally signed the unknown Spieth to an endorsement deal in 2013. However, Under Armour granted the 21 year old a 10 year contract extension just months before his inaugural Masters win, creating an estimated $34m worth of exposure for the brand.

Whilst this would seem a gamble for the brand to invest a 10 year contract in someone who only had one career victory to his name, from Under Armour’s point of view this was by no means a gamble. The company’s senior professionals had followed Spieth and his career for a number of years, critically evaluating the potential of the player, much like a chief scout would in the professional game.

Following on from the Masters, Spieth has gone on to win the US Open – crediting two majors to his name. Most recently, he narrowly missed out at St. Andrews, which ended the chance of the newly coined ‘Spieth Slam’ but nonetheless delivered incredible exposure for Under Armour, leaving the Nike, Adidas and the rest of the field feeling as if they have missed the cut.

The Under Armour partnership with Jordan Spieth is evidence that innovation can overcome spend when implemented with creative insight.


The Happy Gilmore Approach to Brand Ambassadorship 21st January, 2014

For every effective brand ambassador deal that adorns the pages of Marketing Week, much of the time I’m left thinking: ‘why is Rory Mcillroy talking to me about mortgages?’ or ’what is Pele doing in a fast-food sandwich chain eating a foot-long sub?’

The point being that I don’t believe that:

The result: a contrived set of dialogue that doesn’t add any weight to convincing me to bank with Santander or to buy a Subway sandwich.

For me, the best endorsement deals are natural ones, a.k.a. the Happy Gilmore approach (as shall become apparent later). When you believe that the athlete or artist in question feels passionately about the brand they’re promoting, it illustrates the quality of the product to the consumer and makes them feel the desired way towards it. For example, if Gordon Brown bored me to death about the validity of Royal Bank of Scotland’s fixed-rate mortgage rates vs their tracker ones, or James Corden waxed lyrical about how he eats a six-inch Meatball Marinara sub ‘as a snack’ I’d be more inclined to believe them and thus, trust and feel positively toward the service or product that they were promoting.

In order to showcase what I mean by a natural brand ambassador, I’ve compiled five of my favourite brand ambassador deals – all of which came about due to the ambassador’s existing passion for a product, before the sponsor and their cheque books came knocking.

  • 1. Mo Farah and Quorn

Tasked with changing the perception of Quorn from a ‘veggie’ food to a nutritional alternative to meat, the company needed a brand ambassador that was strong and athletic but was also a genuine eater of Quorn. Once the company’s researchers found that Mo Farah had used Quorn as part of the training regime that saw him win two gold medals at the London Olympics – they jumped at the opportunity.  Quorn invested significant funds into the campaign to highlight how effective Quorn can be as part of the average (and the not so average) person’s diet. The partnership worked so well that they plan to use Mo in a series of television adverts throughout 2014. The first release, which came out on New Year’s Day, is a fantastic showcase of how Mo uses Quorn in his diet to beat the rest of the field.

 

  • 2. George Foreman and the George Foreman Grill

Contrary to public belief, George Foreman did not actually invent the ‘lean, mean, fat grilling machine.’ Rather, he was approached in the earliest stages of design and was partly responsible for the machine’s thirty degree tilt – a technique his wife used to reduce the amount of fat consumed during the family’s weekly burger nights. Foreman was also infamous for eating two reduced-fat hamburgers before each fight, including his comeback in 1994, aged 45, in which he retained the World Heavy-weight World Championship, making him the ideal ambassador to promote the machine’s ‘miraculous’ fat-reducing capabilities.

 

  • 3. Run DMC and Adidas

Hip-hop music arguably has a stronger links to fashion than any other musical genre, with numerous tracks named after artist’s favourite footwear, hat or sunglasses. Indeed, no partnership was more iconic than Adidas’ sponsorship of the Queens’ based trio: Run DMC. Initially borrowed from prison ‘fashion’, the group became famous for wearing Adidas sneakers without shoelaces. This was followed up with ‘My Adidas’ – the first single of their third album: Raising Hell. With the group firmly established as one of the best-selling hip hop groups of all time, Adidas partnered with Run DMC for $1.6million and made a long-term strategic allegiance both to Run-DMC and hip-hop throughout the 90s.

 

  • 4. Example and Nandos

Following a tongue in cheek video professing his love for the Portguese food chain’s peri-peri chicken, back in 2010, Nando’s created a special black loyalty card that gave Example the spicy chicken goodness whenever he feels like it. In order to repay what most inner-city dwellers would give their left ear for, Example performed four acoustic sets at carefully selected restaurants across London. Since 2010, Example has continued to tweet his stalker-like devotion for his favourite chicken eatery, acting as priceless, genuine promotion of the now universal restaurant chain.

 

  • 5. Happy Gilmore and Subway

Lastly, and arguably the most natural endorsement deal to date: the Happy Gilmore and Subway partnership. The eagerness in his voice, the knowing look of excitement in his eyes as to what awaits and his delicate grasp of his treasure, all show that there is no greater fan of Subway’s Turkey Club sandwich. In direct contrast to Pele’s rather awkward Subway deal, you believe that Happy Gilmore would stroll into a Subway on a Monday afternoon and demolish a foot-long Turkey sandwich… and that makes me want a Turkey Sub.

Michael Jordan: The Original Brand Ambassador! 25th February, 2013

On February 17th 2013 Michael Jordan, one of sport’s great personalities, turned 50. Not only is ‘Mike’ a sports legend but also the face of arguably the most successful brand endorsement deal of all time. Due to the recent headlines involving sports stars such as Oscar Pistorius and Lance Armstrong the value of brand ambassadors is being questioned more than ever (see Mark Mylam’s blog). Michael Jordan’s sponsorship deal with Nike however, proves what kind of positive impact such an agreement can have for both the brand and the celebrity. Let’s recap this incomparable success story:

“The 1984 Olympics was Michael Jordan’s coming out party” describes his agent David Falk. Up until this point Michael Jordan had not even played a single game in the NBA and yet at the time top three major basketball shoe brands Adidas, Converse and Nike were after him. Before his NBA career even started Jordan already knew who he wanted to partner with – Adidas. The German sports brand and Converse were the leading shoe suppliers for the NBA stars in the mid and late 80’s. Michael Jordan himself had never worn any Nike basketball shoes before and was convinced by the quality of Adidas’ products but the first brand that Michael Jordan met with was Converse. During this pitch Jordan mentioned his worries about the endorsement deals that Converse already had in place with superstars like Magic Johnson or Larry Bird and asked: “With all these stars, where do I fit into the conversation?” John O’Neil, the president of Converse, took that question and replied: “We’ll treat you like all our other superstars.” This is obviously not the answer that the upcoming star wanted to hear and the $100,000 per year that Converse offered him could not change his mind either.

The next invitation that Michael Jordan received was from Nike, however he was not interested in what they had to tell him and declined this invitation at first. In the end it was Jordan’s mother who convinced him to at least listen to what Nike had to offer so he took the plane and the rest, as they say, is history. Nike  decided to spend all of its marketing budget on Jordan and offered him a five-year deal worth $500,000 annually plus royalties; five times as much as any other NBA superstar was receiving at the time. It wasn’t only the sound of the money that made Nike suddenly attractive to Jordan: Nike offered Jordan his own signature shoe line. This is the kind of special treatment that Converse didn’t offer Michael and as a result they were out of the running.

However Adidas was still in the race – Jordan’s “favourite shoe”. If Adidas could have matched what Nike put on the table then Michael would have teamed up with the German brand. However Adidas missed out on this opportunity and this mistake became known as one of the worst business decisions in the last 50 years. “They didn’t feel it was worth it,” said Jordan. “Which in hindsight is perfect for me, because it made my decision much easier. And I ended up with Nike, and it became a great relationship.”

The Jordan brand was born (with the jumpman logo appearing in 1987). Since 1984 Nike’s subsidiary coproduced 27 basketball shoes with Michael Jordan. Last year, the U.S. Jordan Brand sneaker business alone had $1.25 billion in wholesale revenue. Although Michael Jordan himself isn’t playing anymore there are still active NBA players (Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul etc.) acting as Air Jordan ambassadors and supporting the brand’s huge success within the basketball industry. Whereas in the mid and late 80’s Converse and adidas were dominating the U.S. basketball shoe market, 30 years later it is the Jordan brand that is controlling 58% of it, followed by its parent company Nike (34%), adidas (5.5%), Reebok (1.6%) and Under Armour (0.6%).

Michael Jordan himself is still earning more than $80 million per year through corporate sponsorship deals and the majority of this income is related to his partnership with Nike. The current details of this deal are a well kept secret but royalties now generate more than $60 million annually for MJ, according to a Forbes article.

You can buy yourself a lot of nice Birthday presents with that amount of money – Congratulations Michael! But also, congratulations Nike!