David Droga on Celebrity Backlash Against Under Armour CEO: ‘The Hysteria Needs to Die Down’

By Patrick Coffee 

Everything is politics now.

No, really. In case you missed it, three of Under Armour’s top brand ambassadors spoke up publicly yesterday after the company’s CEO Kevin Plank appeared to say he is OK with President Donald Trump. In an interview with Halftime Report, he said:

“He’s highly passionate. To have such a pro-business president is something that’s a real asset to this country. I think people should really grab that opportunity. … He wants to build things. He wants to make bold decisions, and he wants to be decisive. I’m a big fan of people who operate in the world of ‘publish and iterate’ versus ‘think, think, think, think.’ so there’s a lot that I respect there.”

It’s a somewhat vague statement that doesn’t touch on Russia, immigration, executive orders, healthcare, proposed tax cuts, or any other specific administration stories that have earned so much coverage over the past couple of weeks.

But it did somewhat predictably inspired a lot of takes, both hot and not—and it led Misty Copeland, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Stephen Curry to push back, if somewhat gently, against the possible perception that the Under Armour brand and everyone associated with it approves of all things Trump. In response to the “asset” quote, Curry told The Mercury News, “I agree with that description, if you remove the ‘et’ from asset.”

But we’re less concerned with that than with the statement David Droga, CEO of UA’s agency of record, gave to Adweek. He essentially called for everyone to calm the hell down.

“There are few greater champions of inclusion, community and diversity than Kevin. Supporting more US manufacturing does not mean he supports other harmful and divisive policies…His track record of helping rebuild Baltimore, his drive for local manufacturing (the lighthouse) his generosity to those in need, and his overall humanity.

He is an action orientated, innovative businessman. That should be applauded. He is also very pro-business. Being optimistic is a valuable trait we all need more of right now…I can say first hand Under Armour is a values-based, people company and this hasn’t deviated for any administration. Under Armour is not about the left or the right. It’s about moving forward together.

Misty and Stephen are more than just two of the world’s most inspiring athletes. They are role models and I think it’s natural for them to respond to the media’s narrative. But they also know Kevin personally and by all accounts they have spoken with Kevin and been reassured that Under Armour’s values haven’t suddenly changed.

The entire episode is a shock and unfortunate but we remain proud partners. Under Armour is without question one of this countries most admired companies and Kevin a poster child of an American success story. Hardworking, inspiring and exceedingly philanthropic. The hysteria needs to die down and we need to get back to facts and constructive dialogue again. If we turn on our best, where do we go from there?”

This is quite an extended quote amounting to an agency defense of its client. For context, Under Armour debuted its very first “made in America” line just over a week ago. Until then all of its products, like 97% of clothing sold in the United States, were imported.

Today the company also released a corporate statement opposing Trump’s proposed “travel ban.” From the UA homepage:

“We engage in policy, not politics. We believe in advocating for fair trade, an inclusive immigration policy that welcomes the best and the brightest and those seeking opportunity in the great tradition of our country, and tax reform that drives hiring to help create new jobs globally, across America and in Baltimore.

… We are against a travel ban and believe that immigration is a source of strength, diversity and innovation for global companies based in America like Under Armour.”

Next-day recovery from a public relations fumble?

Another note: Plank also compared Under Armour to come-from-behind Super Bowl champ and brand ambassador Tom Brady, telling Wall Street critics of his company that people underestimated him, too. Brady has yet to comment on this “hysteria.”

Of course, Droga5 was also the primary creative agency partner on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

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