RBR Interview: Steve Battista, VP/Marketing, Under Armour on Launching Under Armour Running, by Larry Eder


There is a value in living in this age of multi media platforms. If one is observant, the viewer can find a more complete picture of the focus of their attention. For example, today we have the video from the Under Armour Performance Running press conference, which is just below this note. Please check it out. It is short, but it gives you a good introduction into how Under Armour holds press conferences, launches products and finally, you get to see Steve Battista, Vice President, Brand Marketing, Under Armour Performance.

Battista is the focus of this interview. He graciously gave us his time, juggling a day of working on creative-Under Armour running, remember, launches January 31, 2009!

RBR: You spoke about a multi platform marketing plan, can you explain?

Battista: For starters, we'll be rolling out a major television campaign right after the ball drops on New Year's starring all kinds of athletes. There will be three 30-second spots including a women’s only version. Heather Mitts, Olympic soccer player, Brandon Jacobs, the punishing running back from the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, and a slew of others showing how all “Athletes Run”. Our core consumer lives online and speaks through texting so we'll be connecting with them on all platforms. In store will be huge for us to tell our technical story, same with our website, www.underarmour.com. In print you'll see us everywhere.

RBR: Under Armour is such an icon in performance under garments, doesn't it put undue pressure on the brand to make a home run on footwear out of the blocks?

Battista: The only pressure we have is from ourselves because we refuse to make subpar product. I don't see it as pressure, but guardrails for our brand. All product must live up to the universal guarantee of performance, meaning we don't make non-performance product. No cotton, nothing that doesn't make you better. As long as you make great product, and tell a great story, everything else will fall into place.

RBR: How do you describe your brand message?

Battista: We want to make all athletes better. And we do that through passion, science and innovation. That's our secret sauce.

RBR: You are one of the eyebrow raisers during these economic times. How do you increase traffic for specialty while at the same time promoting Foot Locker and Dicks?

Battista: We do everything on our own timelines when we, our harshest critics, are satisfied with the product and the results from massive wear-testing on the highest level of sports. Then, of course, we tell a very simple story which is kind of unique. Really we blew up the model considering we don't make any one person or product bigger than the Brand. And for most of our media, we don't talk about technology, but instead we connect through the language of sport and passion of competition and then allow the POP, the website, the hangtag to tell the story of our science.

RBR: Your ads for women runners and actives were excellent, how do you keep that feeling in your messaging?

Battista: We don't water down anything for our female consumers. That's rule number one. Second, with the new product lines we have for women, the design and color flow have broadened our appeal and freshened up the looks. Our athletes loved the apparel and took every sample shoe we had on set!

Women's UA Chimera™

RBR: What most excites you in brand marketing?

Battista: That we can truly lead a movement and work outside the traditional ways of marketing and advertising. We’re building the number one performance brand in the world, and it’s exciting to see the growth!

The interview, with questions answered and a note from Diane Pelkey, Under Armour's public relations manager, came about 4:15 central time today. True to her word, Diane, who ran PR at Reebok for many years, knows what a deadline means and special thanks to Steve Battista, who did not give us rote answers.

Under Armour rewrote the performance apparel message when they went into their performance shirts, shorts and tights. Their message has always been, performance first and the public, especially the 14-22 year old crowd, has embraced it.

The battle lines are drawn. For many years, it was Nike versus Reebok, then Nike versus adidas, but, in this performance apparel, running footwear world, the battle will be for the chest and feet of a new generation.

How will this affect performance running? I do think it will bring more young athletes into local running stores, but that is for two reasons-one Under Armour has the cache there and secondly, half of the running stores out there do not even know who the local cross country coach is. In Dick's, Foot Locker, aka Big Boxes, Under Armour will have its first running footwear on those walls.

The truth is that, Under Armour should do very well in this lauch, but seriously, so should the sport of running. Athletes Run is the Under Armour moniker. More runners? That, as one former felon and home designer might say, 'is a good thing.'

I do not know enough about the brand to make more a of a judgement. They do remind me of Nike, 1988-89, when many of us would think that anyone with a Nike tatoo had 'drunk the cool aid'. That was short hand for the guys at swoosh believed that they were on a mission.

Well, the team at Under Armour sure does. Under Steve Battista's name at the end of his email was Under Armour Performance. But performance not to throw into another athlete's face, but performance to make one better. Not unique, but an interesting twist. In your face is out, such tactics intimidate. Under Armour wants to make us all athletes, and then make us better athletes through running.

The team at Under Armour is on message. They have a lot to gain and a lot to loose. They are taking the chance, an educated chance, and in my mind, have a fascinating several months ahead!

"In the end, we are talking about making and selling running shoes", as one industry insider reminded me today. And, like the brands that have made performance running successful so far, you need a team that believes in their product, great designers, savvy marketers, infrastructure, great product and lots of running store managers who will put your shoes on the wall. At the end of the day, Under Armour will be successful by selling one pair of running shoes at a time. That is the secret to success in this business.

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