Ad of the Day: Under Armour Unleashes a Wild and Furious New Ad With Cam Newton

UA's Adrienne Lofton takes us through Droga5's latest epic

Under Armour had a huge hit with its Michael Phelps "Rule Yourself" spot, which broke in March and helped drive the sportswear brand through the Olympics last month.

Now, UA tells Adweek that it's taking a similar approach with Cam Newton in a wild new commercial from Droga5 that metaphorically addresses the NFL star's obstacle-filled path to greatness—and features some pretty unlikely source material, as well as an interesting family addition to the creative.

The spot, "Prince With 1,000 Enemies," breaks this morning and shows the Carolina Panthers quarterback—last season's league MVP and Super Bowl runner-up—standing alone in a misty field in the twilight. All of a sudden, he takes off at a sprint into a forest, where he rushes past—and eventually through—the trees in a fury of speed and footwork.

All the while, a female voiceover—who turns out to be Cam's mother, Jackie Newton—narrates a section of Watership Down, the 1972 novel by Richard Adams about a group of rabbits on the run, who are looking to make a new home but keep running into danger and obstacles along the way.

Check out the spot here:

The parallels to the Phelps spot are subtle but undeniable—the dark cinematography, the surreal touches, the overarching story of a star athlete working without rest behind the scenes to make amends (for London in Phelps' case, for the Super Bowl loss in Santa Clara, Calif., in Newton's).

It's an inspiring lead-in to the NFL season, and for Under Armour, a key piece of creative in its current focus on footwear—the market where it sees its future growth. As Newton flies through the woods, we get many glimpses of his UA shoes, and the focus is purely on his movement. He doesn't throw a single pass—indeed, he doesn't even have a ball.

The theme is "It comes from below," which UA has used in a few spots now, including this one earlier in the summer with Bryce Harper.

On Tuesday, Adweek spoke with UA's senior vice president of global brand management, all about the new campaign, the creative and business goals around it, and why Cam was almost given a creative director title on the new spot.

Adweek: Watership Down is an interesting choice for source material. How did that come about?

Adrienne Lofton: It was an interesting selection. When we first started talking to Cam about this new campaign, back in March, he was frustrated. He didn't take home the championship trophy, and he was frustrated. He wanted to prove, to himself and to his team, that this is just the beginning, and the best is yet to come. He thought about the challenges, and what he had to persevere through this past season, and how he behaved after the Super Bowl loss on the media podium, and the things he wanted to use as fuel to get him ready for the first game of the season, which is coming up on Thursday. … With Cam, it's about head down, break through the barriers and continue to drive his team to the championship. When we thought about the challenges—the naysayers, the doubters, everything that exists in the world of celebrity—this book, Watership Down, came to mind.

Our two creative leads at Droga—Alex [Nowak] and Felix [Richter], who are awesome—they came up with this idea. We talked about it together. I grew up in Texas, and it was a mandatory book we had to read as kids. So, everybody related differently to this book when they pitched the idea. But it was all about these rabbits breaking out from their tribe in order to bring their crew to safety. They experienced all of these temptations and perils along the way, but kept their heads down until they got to a place of safety. It's this dramatic book, and we kept thinking of the parallels, how Cam keeps his head down no matter what anybody has to say. He is focused on taking his team to victory, and he is so prepared to work his butt off to get there. It's awe-inspiring.

We wanted to tell this story around footwork, and footwear, as you see in the spot, but we wanted to tell it differently. We took him off the field, we took the ball out of his hands, and we created this metaphorical environment that is about crushing through your challenges. Those trees represent barriers he's broken through every step of the way through his career. As we were building this concept, it was really reminiscent of the Michael Phelps work, and how we ideated against that idea. We were always keeping footwork in the back of our minds as the essential story, but making sure we did it through the eyes and the lens of Cam Newton.

How did Jackie Newton get involved, and what does she add to the spot?

In the original [edit], a British guy does a very similar voiceover. As we talked about the layers of Cam's life, his parents—particularly his mother—play such an inspiring role. And we know her, just from the relationship. You see Cam listen to his parents with such reverence. It's a beautiful thing to see. And when he's having his toughest days, the person who reminds him why he's here is his mother. So, we took this risk. She's not an actor. She doesn't do voiceovers. We thought it was a risk worth taking, because it adds so much depth and emotional resonance. We thought it was a perfect way to round out the narrative. She's a beautiful soul. I will also say, I've never see Cam so excited, to have his family be part of the work. She literally said, "This makes my life. To be able to contribute to my son's life is why I'm here." It was a beautiful family experience. That was a first for us on the creative side, for sure.

I understand Cam was involved pretty closely in the creative, too.

In March, when we had our first meetings with Cam out in L.A., we just listened to where he was from a head-space perspective. Cam came to our campus when we came up with the idea and pitched it to him. And his excitement—we almost called him a creative director with this spot. He chose his wardrobe, he added flair. There's wolves that show up in the spot. He wanted the drama of how he feels, the weight on his shoulders and his life, to really come out in this piece. He was so engaged and involved and passionate about telling his story, to inspire the next generation. Our athletes are always with us on the journey from concept to creation, but Cam had a specific hand in the creation of this spot. We're a brand that feels that entrepreneurship is the best way to be. And if we have an athlete who wants to roll up his sleeves and get involved in the process, we love it.

You've got a metaphor and storytelling going on in the spot, and you've also got footwear and the product pitch. How do you balance those two?

It's a needle we thread tightly, and it's not always easy. What we know is, you first have to pull consumers in first. We've got to create sticky, breakthrough, revolutionary storytelling. That's what captures the hearts of the athletes and consumers. The Phelps stuff is a good example of that. Then we follow up this big body of work—there's a long-form, there's a :60, there's a :30—by going deeper into product storytelling in digital and social. So. what you'll see surrounding this bigger body of work are many different pieces of creative, from product marketing to Snapchat integrations, where you're zooming in close on footwork with interactive gaming—a first ever on Snapchat. We want to be where young athletes are, and we're going to tell them how our athletes perform—and that's where you start to lean heavily into product marketing. It's always this one-two punch of pulling them in with emotion and then going very deep with product marketing.

There's different pieces to it. Part one is reminding athletes why footwork is so important. We're doing a partnership with Sport Science on ESPN. We're going to do some content creation with some of our best football players. We're going to remind kids that it starts with footwork. The "So what?" for us is giving kids content to help them actually get better. And that's all going to happen in digital and social. Then there's being entertaining along the way, so the gaming piece—with the NFL and Snapchat and Twitch partnership. Entertaining through gaming, entertaining through Snapchat, and then reminding them that this is the shoe you've got to have.

And then when you take it all the way down the funnel to, we're creating a world—it's actually called A Cam World—and you get in there and it's about the cleat, the C1N cleat, the Highlight cleat. The C1N cleat is the No. 1 cleat in football right now. And we're also going to give head-to-toe solutions, called "Cam's Picks." The other thing we know and love about Cam is his style. He is part of culture. Whether you love it or hate it, you cannot ignore the product that Cam shows up in every day. We're going to have a section on that's about Cam's Picks, and it's from the toe up. And that's how we start to weave in a really relevant product marketing story, so the consumer is completely satisfied with the solutions from Under Armour, from head to toe.

You mention the Phelps spot. Can you talk about how "Rule Yourself" led to "It Comes From Below"?

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