How Under Armour Is Building a Winning Brand

Let's play a word association game. I will mention three well-known companies, and you say what comes to mind. (To make things awkward, say it louder if you're in the office).

  1. Nike ( NYSE: NKE )

  1. Apple

  1. Victoria's Secret

For Nike, did you say, "Just do it," or "sports?" Maybe you mentioned a particular athlete, like Michael Jordan or Lebron James. With Apple, you probably said "iPhone."

When you think of Victoria's Secret, you may have said "sexy" or "pink." Did you just scream out "lingerie!" from your cubicle? If so, stop reading and start explaining yourself to your boss.

The impression left on you by a company is called a brand image. For a consumer-goods company, there may not be a more powerful determinant of success or failure than the strength of its brand.

At the 2008 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, Warren Buffett made the following comment on the power of brands: "If you own important branded assets in this country, and you have good assets, it is not easy to take on those products." Buffett is basically saying that a brand is a powerful competitive advantage. It would be very difficult for another company to start anew and take shelf space away from Heinz Ketchup.

A new smartphone maker would have difficulty taking market share from the iPhone. During the last two decades, the same could have been said in the sportswear market with Nike and Adidas ( NASDAQOTH: ADDYY ). However, a new player has emerged.

In 1996, Kevin Plank, Founder and CEO of UnderArmor ( NYSE: UA ), sold $17,000 worth of moisture-wicking t-shirts out of the trunk of his car. In 2015, Under Armour expects to report just less than $4 billion in revenue. The company's success can largely be attributed to how it has created a brand that resonates with consumers.

Underdog to champion

The highest-profile athlete to promote the Under Armour brand is 2015 NBA MVP Steph Curry. Through the first three quarters of 2015, Under Armour's footwear sales increased 48% from the same period last year. With the release of Steph Curry's signature shoe during the critical retail holiday season, expect that percentage to increase significantly.

Curry has become a global phenomenon over the past year. He recently surpassed Lebron James to lead the NBA in jersey sales, and is having another MVP season as his team makes a run for back-to-back championships. In 2013, however, when Under Armour signed Curry away from Nike, he was not a well-known player outside of Northern California. He was coming off two ankle surgeries, and zero all-star appearances.

Nike believed $2.5 million per year was too rich to have Curry endorse its brand. Curry signed with Under Armour and began marketing a signature shoe. Today, Under Armour's goal is to build a $1 billion basketball brand.

This underdog-to-champion story is a microcosm of the Under Armour journey. The company has done an excellent job of selecting athletes before their primes to help endorse the brand. According to company executive Matt Merchin, "Young, underdog, and next" are the key attributes Under Armour targets with its athlete endorsers. A few notable athletes who fit this mold are:

  • Jordan Spieth: Professional golfer who signed a 10-year deal with Under Armour at the age of 21, and went on to win two major tournaments, including the coveted Masters. He is now the No. 1 ranked golfer in the world.

  • Buster Posey : Major League Baseball catcher who signed with Under Armour as a rookie. His accolades include Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and three World Series wins.

  • Clayton Kershaw : Major League Baseball pitcher who signed with Under Armour at the age of 21 and became a three-time Cy Young winner for being the best pitcher in baseball.

The Under Armour roster is also rounded out by veterans such as Tom Brady, Michael Phelps, Lindsey Vonn, and Andy Murray -- a group that combines for four Super Bowl victories, 24 Olympic Medals, and 33 tennis titles. With an impressive group of endorsers, Under Armour should continue to build a brand that wins.

Capturing the women's market

The article How Under Armour Is Building a Winning Brand originally appeared on

Palbir Nijjar owns shares of Apple, Nike, and Under Armour. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple, Nike, and Under Armour. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days . We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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