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Cannes Lions: Building the Under Armour brand

By Dan Hodges

CANNES, France – Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and Droga5 founder/CEO David Droga, on a panel yesterday at the Cannes Lions ad festival, provided an overview of how they started working together to form a very effective partnership.

To scale the business, Mr. Plank needed a partner that could help tell the Under Armour story. Together, they generated revenue and award–winning work, starting out as an underdogs to real contenders.

The session opened with a video of ballerina Misty Copeland, “I will what I want,” which highlights the underdog nature of the Under Armour brand.

Walking the plank
Mr. Plank talked about the struggles he had starting his business. He discussed “the importance of hiring the right people and having the fortitude to succeed when you are challenged by many factors, seen and unseen.”

The executive said that “advertising is always important to us. In our third year of business (1999) we did our first advertising campaign. Prior to advertising, I was selling directly to teams that were interested in our synthetic fabric.

“Our first campaign was in ESPN magazine. It was a very risky move at that time and many people in the company were against it, as we were struggling to make payroll.

“I felt strongly that we had to get our story out to a wider audience. It was a $25,000 half-page ad that generated $800,000 in sales. In the prior year we did $1.3 million in revenue.

“My advice to entrepreneurs is you have to figure out how to get your product sold.

“Entrepreneurs will ask me for one word of advice for their companies and I tell them that there is no one word of advice.

“I tell them, find out if your product can sell. Are your customers willing to take money out of their pockets to pay you?

“The key that I see for successful entrepreneurs is their belief in themselves and what they are doing.”

App comments
David Droga, CEO of ad agency Droga5, said that “it is no coincidence that the strongest companies are led by people who believe in what they are doing.”

Under Armour has embraced the mobile platform as a cornerstone for its future. It bought “Map My Fitness” in 2013 and has fully embraced wearables and the Internet of Things world.

At CES this year, Under Armour launched its application in partnership with IBM Watson.

Under Armour has taken mobility to a new level launching a Bluetooth-connected running shoes and an app that lets a consumers compare their fitness to that of its peers.

Today, with its four fitness apps – Under Armour’s fitness recording app Record, personal training app Endomondo, weight loss coaching app MyFitnessPal and exercise tracking app MapMyFitness – UnderArmour has 160 million registered users.

Listening to Mr. Plank and Mr. Droga yesterday, it is safe to say that they are just getting started.

Dan Hodges is managing director of Consumers in Motion Group, a New York-based strategic consultancy offering business, marketing, and technology services. He is also head of the New York chapter of the Location Based Marketing Association. Reach him at