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Under Armour Talks to Four Shops for Basketball Advertising

CP&B, Goodby Silverstein, TwoFifteenMcCann and McKinney in the Mix

By Published on .

Sportswear marketer Under Armour is planning to bring aboard a new creative agency to help it make a major splash with its basketball footwear business over the next 18 months.

Under Armour's senior VP-brand, Steve Battista, told Ad Age that four shops are under consideration for the assignment. They are: Omnicom Group's Goodby Silverstein & Partners; MDC Partners' CP&B; Interpublic Group of Cos.' TwoFifteenMcCann; and independent McKinney.

It's a rapidly moving process, in part because there's only a quartet of shops competing for the business. That's unusual, as agency-review processes these days regularly involve 20 or 30 shops, at least at the outset.

Steve Battista
Steve Battista

Mr. Battista said that he hopes to name the winning agency within the next three weeks. "They've all come in and met with various members of the team as well as some of our athletes. They are pitching a creative look and feel for our basketball business."

Under Armour tapped year-old startup Consigliere Brand Capital to help select the participating agencies and guide the review process. Although Consigliere is not a search consultant, Mr. Battista said he felt he could trust its advice because he's known founder Michael Duda "for years." It helps too that Mr. Duda's partner in the firm is basketball star Steve Nash. The Phoenix Suns point guard is understood to have worked on a strategic positioning document and brand brief shared with agencies.

Of the contenders, TwoFifteenMcCann -- which recently reemerged with McCann after having split off from the agency just last year -- is the only agency to currently work with Under Armour.

The shop created a footwear campaign that launched last week timed to the start of the NFL preseason. That work features New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and was directed by Peter Berg, the creator of the hit show "Friday Night Lights."

While the winning agency will be responsible for the whole of Under Armour's basketball portfolio, which includes both sneakers and apparel, the focus is definitely on boosting consumer awareness of the shoes. Said Mr. Battista: "We've only sold a limited number of styles to the public in basketball footwear. Most of it has been on the court for our teams and in testing, so the next year-and-half is really our coming-out party for basketball footwear."

The review is also a sign that Under Armour is ramping up its advertising activities overall. "We've worked with outside shops sometimes," said Mr. Battista. An early exploration for a project for its women's line "didn't pan out for a variety of reasons" so it's "only really the second time we've done [an agency review], and we want to try some things out and we want our partners to try us out."

So far, the company has been pretty conservative with its ad spending, handling the bulk of its creative in-house. According to Kantar, Under Armour spent just over $10 million on domestic measured media last year, but as it continues bringing on outside agencies it's possible that figure will increase.

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