Even though there may not actually be an NBA season this year, performance apparel company Under Armour is pushing hard to make its mark in the basketball footwear marketplace. Of course, it's hard to do that when you have to compete with rivals like Nike and Adidas. To give it on-court cred, the Baltimore-based client teamed up MDC Partners' Crispin Porter + Bogusky to launch a campaign for its basketball footwear line, which just celebrated its one year-anniversary last week.
This fall’s campaign is the first that CP+B has generated for UA since it won the company’s basketball account earlier this fall . The agency literally has big shoes to fill. The campaign promotes Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings’ size 11.5 new signature sneaker, the UA Micro G Bloodline.
Under Armour has traditionally handled its creative in-house. This summer, however, the company felt the need to look elsewhere for inspiration. “We had a lot of anxiety about taking an outside partner, but CP+B put us at ease. . . . We’ve been doing it for over a decade and needed a new perspective,” Steve Battista, head of creative at UA, told Adweek.
Part of that need for a fresh angle is rooted in the fact that UA is considered a football brand. High-profile NFL players, including Tom Brady, Ray Lewis, and Cam Newton, wear UA cleats and accessories on the field during games. When Auburn won the college football championship game last January, the team earned its victory wearing UA uniforms . Even fans of fictional football grew accustomed to watching the Dillon Panthers play in UA gear on the critically acclaimed TV series Friday Night Lights.
“Everyone has their own unique problem. These guys are perceived as a football brand. . . . We’re looking to prove to kids we get their world and we’re basketball,” said Alex Burnard, a CP+B executive creative director who oversaw the campaign. “They make killer shoes, they just don’t get the attention yet.” To this end, Battista said, “We’re taking our brand and our brand voice and translating it to the sport of basketball. It’s the same voice, but a different translation.”
MDC shops are beginning to build a reputation as go-to agencies capable of breathing life into sneaker brands that are getting overlooked by consumers. Last year, when athletic footwear company K-Swiss sought to pull its sneaker sales out of decline and revitalize its reputation among both 18- to 24-year-old men and retailers, it hired MDC's 72andSunny. The agency took the unorthodox approach of using a fictional athlete  to promote K-Swiss shoes—Kenny Powers, actor/comedian Danny McBride's washed-up baseball player character from HBO's Eastbound & Down. K-Swiss has seen a 62 percent sales spike since the campaign's launch. With UA, CP+B has its chance to invigorate another dark horse sneaker company. Like 72andSunny, its creative team favors an atypical approach. "We look for loopholes in pop culture to exploit with our campaigns," said Burnard.
Consumers may start to take notice of UA sneakers on Nov. 1, when the commercials begin airing on ESPN, BET, and NFL Network. Driven by the slogan “Are you from here?” the spots aim to tap into the raw mind-set of basketball players through gritty yet realistic scenes from demanding practices featuring Jennings and fellow NBA players Derrick Williams, Greivis Vasquez, and Kemba Walker. The initial 60-second spot takes the "Are you from here?" slogan one step further by featuring voiceover work by Lance Reddick, a Baltimore native well known for his leading role on HBO's Baltimore-based drama The Wire.
Each shoe in the Bloodline collection, given that name because Jennings became a father for the first time as the line was being developed, represents a separate part of his narrative. The different styles tout unique graphics depicting his stops on the way to going pro: a map of Gardena, Calif., where he learned to play basketball; a red, blue, and white sneaker embodying the year he spent in Italy as the first player to skip a college program and play overseas (a move that generated discord over the NBA’s “prep-to-pro” policy); a camouflage sneaker as homage to Milwaukee’s hunting culture.