Nike's Better Is Better Than Under Armour's Better

How to Market Sports Performance Without Buying a Super Bowl Spot

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Poor Under Armour. You have stock-price issues when you announce you're buying a spot in this year's Super Bowl. Many wonder if it was the right thing to do (or, more to the point, what you were thinking), seeing that your brand equity has been based on word of mouth from loyal users (I count myself in that camp; you can search my gym bag for proof) -- and that you've done wonders supporting high school athletics, which is a great way to build loyalty and keep kids from moving on to, oh, say Nike.

The problem is, from a marketing standpoint, the reason many may have worried about you blowing your ad budget on a Super Bowl spot is, frankly, who are you kidding? Yeah, Bob Garfield liked your ad, the USA Today's Ad Meter not so much (but you rocked with neuroscientists). And that's the thing: Your militaristic, "1984"-esque spot featuring a cameo from your Baltimore bad boy Ray Lewis wasn't about what you do best -- which is make great gear. You sort of see the gear in action, in a hyper-stylized sort of way, but what you come away with is an overblown locker-room exhortation you hear in bad movies when the team is down by 20 at the half.

Nike, on the other hand, beat you at your own sports-performance game. The 60-second spot for Nike Sparq (Wieden & Kennedy, Portland) that ran last night on "American Idol" (granted, a spot on "Idol" also costs a fortune, not as much as a Super Bowl ad, but Nike has the budget for it) was fantastic. I thought the Nike Football spot "Leave Nothing" was exhilarating, but "My Better" topped it. Last night I probably spent half an hour watching the Nike spot after it aired; I saw the :30; I found out who did the song (Saul Williams, "List of Demands" -- probably not an accident that such a rockin' tune played on "Idol"); I watched the training videos (not that I'm going to buy a parachute or anything); I checked out Nike.com. I was fully engaged with a brand whose products I don't even use. After I saw Under Armour's spot for the first time I thought, "Oh, I have to wait to buy the shoes. Oh, well." After I saw the spot for the third time, I didn't really care.

Nike knows marketing. And having Ladainian Tomlinson saying "My better is better than your better" to me was a not-so-subtle dig at its upstart rival, at least on the marketing playing field.