Content Marketing Showdown: Under Armour vs. Nike
In the years since the 1988 debut of the very first “Just Do It” ad, the Nike brand, with the help of Portland-based ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, has made itself part of the very fabric of America.
The brand is an integral part of both hip-hop and athletic culture, and its slogans (“Bo knows,” “Find your greatness,”) and characters (Mars Blackmon, Lil’ Penny) are easily identifiable to millions of consumers around the world. Unsurprisingly, this extraordinary brand awareness has helped Nike capture a stranglehold on the U.S. sports apparel market.
In recent years, though, a new challenger to the throne has emerged. With a gritty, honest worldview and an eye on the rapidly growing women’s market, Under Armour recently shot past Adidas to become the No. 2 player in the U.S. sportswear market.
Just as Nike established itself with the help of high-profile athletes like Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan, Under Armour is producing fresh, creative content with new stars like Cam Newton and Gisele Bündchen.
But for all of the strides the 19-year-old, Baltimore-based underdog has made, does it have what it takes to topple the sportswear industry’s defending champion? Find out in today’s Content Marketing Showdown.
Innovation is an extremely close category to call, as both brands have put together some inventive, technology-fueled content campaigns as of late.
Last August, Nike built an incredible LED-powered basketball court in China that tracks individual players’ movement for statistical purposes and uses lights on the court to lead players through training drills designed by Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant. The video the brand released showing off the court has more than 1 million YouTube views, but at just over 30 seconds, it was a little too short for my liking. The brand also impressed last year with a microsite dedicated to showing how innovation has powered the evolution of Nike’s sneakers.
However, this category belongs to Under Armour for its stunning interactive website featuring model Gisele Bündchen, which just won big at this year’s Cannes Lions advertising awards. As part of its women-focused “I Will What I Want” campaign, the brand built a microsite that shows video of Bündchen working out in an empty white gym. People can click to see Bündchen do different exercises, but what makes the site really stand out is that it pulls in live tweets about the model and projects them onto the gym’s otherwise blank walls.
The result? Viewers are left alone with the powerful sights and sounds of a woman pushing her body to the limits, all the while she ignores the negative comments of the masses that float around her. Now that’s a statement.
Winner: Under Armour
For all of Under Armour’s innovative use of tech with the Gisele microsite, you would be hard-pressed to find a brand with more creative, entertaining content than Nike.
In 2014, Team Just Do It made tons of end-of-year lists with “The Last Game,” a beautiful animated short film tied to the World Cup. The five-minute video stars soccer luminaries and Nike-sponsored athletes like Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, and tells the story of a mad scientist who tries to create world-class players in a lab, only for those players to be defeated by the creativity and boldness of the real-life stars. The video took seven months to make, and it shows in the quality of the production.
Nike has also kept people’s eyes glued to their computer and smartphone screens with its heartwarming series of “First & Long” videos produced in partnership with SB Nation, which showed NFL stars returning to visit the football teams at the high schools they attended. The brand also had us rolling with videos starring the basketball/comedy duo of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul.
Under Armour gets points for its fascinating documentary series following Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton through training camp, but Nike takes the cake.
As you might expect, Nike has a huge advantage when it comes to numbers. The incumbent brand has 22 million Facebook fans compared to Under Armour’s 3.6 million, and roughly 17 times as many Instagram followers as its rival.
However, quantity isn’t everything. Under Armour maintains a seriously cool Instagram account, which features stunning photos like this one of Andy Murray taking a serve with the London skyline in the background:
The brand and its agency, Droga5, were also recently recognized by Facebook as putting together one of the past year’s 12 best campaigns on the platform. Under Armour and Droga5 smartly leveraged the social network to distribute the Gisele microsite and an inspiring, viral video detailing the unlikely rise of ballerina Misty Copeland.
By comparison, most of Nike’s social efforts are spread out across separate accounts for each of its sportswear lines (i.e., Nike Basketball, Nike Football, Nike Running, etc). While each brand does strong work, it doesn’t touch the concerted effort put in to the main Under Armour accounts.
Winner: Under Armour
Under Armour has done a great job establishing itself as a brand for empowered women with its “I Will What I Want” campaign, which communicates a very clear message: Just because society is always telling women how to act doesn’t mean those women should bother listening. In a very short period of time, this consistent messaging has allowed Under Armour to establish its brand values quickly.
But perhaps no brand has ever been as consistent as Nike, which has turned out quality content year after year after year. The company’s advertising has been so strong for so long that all it takes is a simple symbol—the iconic swoosh—to communicate the brand’s ideals of risk-taking, self-confidence, and hard-fought competition.
Under Armour’s been doing great work lately, but until it keeps it up for another 20 years we can’t give this to anyone but Nike.
It might be unfair to competitors given its huge head start, but when Nike speaks, the world the listens. Take, for example, its epic video commemorating the 25th anniversary of the “Just Do It” tagline, which starred Bradley Cooper, Serena Williams, and LeBron James.
Or look at its recent “Re2pect” video honoring longtime poster boy and recently retired New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. The video racked up more than 9 million YouTube views and featured appearances from New York City icons Jay Z, Spike Lee, and Billy Crystal.
The brand also played a major role in the creation of the entire subculture of sneaker collecting with its highly anticipated releases of the latest Air Jordans, and with one notable exception, the Nike brand is essentially synonymous with the word “sneaker” within the hip-hop catalogue.
At least for now, Nike wields a tremendous influence over pop culture that Under Armour simply cannot match.
Winner: Nike, 3–2
Ladies and gentlemen, your winner *Bruce Buffer voice* AND STILL champion of the sporting goods marketing game: Nike.
While Under Armour has made tremendous strides distinguishing itself in a crowded marketplace, the Nike brand remains just a little too strong to be knocked off its perch. But who knows what lies ahead for these two hard-charging companies. Perhaps a decade from now, everyone will be rapping about their Under Armour kicks.