Under Armour had a huge hit with its Michael Phelps "Rule Yourself" spot, which broke in March and helped drive the sportswear brand through the Olympics last month.
Now, UA tells Adweek that it's taking a similar approach with Cam Newton in a wild new commercial from Droga5 that metaphorically addresses the NFL star's obstacle-filled path to greatness—and features some pretty unlikely source material, as well as an interesting family addition to the creative.
The spot, "Prince With 1,000 Enemies," breaks this morning and shows the Carolina Panthers quarterback—last season's league MVP and Super Bowl runner-up—standing alone in a misty field in the twilight. All of a sudden, he takes off at a sprint into a forest, where he rushes past—and eventually through—the trees in a fury of speed and footwork.
All the while, a female voiceover—who turns out to be Cam's mother, Jackie Newton—narrates a section of Watership Down, the 1972 novel by Richard Adams about a group of rabbits on the run, who are looking to make a new home but keep running into danger and obstacles along the way.
Check out the spot here:
The parallels to the Phelps spot are subtle but undeniable—the dark cinematography, the surreal touches, the overarching story of a star athlete working without rest behind the scenes to make amends (for London in Phelps' case, for the Super Bowl loss in Santa Clara, Calif., in Newton's).
It's an inspiring lead-in to the NFL season, and for Under Armour, a key piece of creative in its current focus on footwear—the market where it sees its future growth. As Newton flies through the woods, we get many glimpses of his UA shoes, and the focus is purely on his movement. He doesn't throw a single pass—indeed, he doesn't even have a ball.
The theme is "It comes from below," which UA has used in a few spots now, including this one earlier in the summer with Bryce Harper.
On Tuesday, Adweek spoke with UA's senior vice president of global brand management, all about the new campaign, the creative and business goals around it, and why Cam was almost given a creative director title on the new spot.
Adweek: Watership Down is an interesting choice for source material. How did that come about?
Adrienne Lofton: It was an interesting selection. When we first started talking to Cam about this new campaign, back in March, he was frustrated. He didn't take home the championship trophy, and he was frustrated. He wanted to prove, to himself and to his team, that this is just the beginning, and the best is yet to come. He thought about the challenges, and what he had to persevere through this past season, and how he behaved after the Super Bowl loss on the media podium, and the things he wanted to use as fuel to get him ready for the first game of the season, which is coming up on Thursday. … With Cam, it's about head down, break through the barriers and continue to drive his team to the championship. When we thought about the challenges—the naysayers, the doubters, everything that exists in the world of celebrity—this book, Watership Down, came to mind.
Our two creative leads at Droga—Alex [Nowak] and Felix [Richter], who are awesome—they came up with this idea. We talked about it together. I grew up in Texas, and it was a mandatory book we had to read as kids. So, everybody related differently to this book when they pitched the idea. But it was all about these rabbits breaking out from their tribe in order to bring their crew to safety. They experienced all of these temptations and perils along the way, but kept their heads down until they got to a place of safety. It's this dramatic book, and we kept thinking of the parallels, how Cam keeps his head down no matter what anybody has to say. He is focused on taking his team to victory, and he is so prepared to work his butt off to get there. It's awe-inspiring.
We wanted to tell this story around footwork, and footwear, as you see in the spot, but we wanted to tell it differently. We took him off the field, we took the ball out of his hands, and we created this metaphorical environment that is about crushing through your challenges. Those trees represent barriers he's broken through every step of the way through his career. As we were building this concept, it was really reminiscent of the Michael Phelps work, and how we ideated against that idea. We were always keeping footwork in the back of our minds as the essential story, but making sure we did it through the eyes and the lens of Cam Newton.
How did Jackie Newton get involved, and what does she add to the spot?
In the original , a British guy does a very similar voiceover. As we talked about the layers of Cam's life, his parents—particularly his mother—play such an inspiring role. And we know her, just from the relationship. You see Cam listen to his parents with such reverence. It's a beautiful thing to see. And when he's having his toughest days, the person who reminds him why he's here is his mother. So, we took this risk. She's not an actor. She doesn't do voiceovers. We thought it was a risk worth taking, because it adds so much depth and emotional resonance. We thought it was a perfect way to round out the narrative. She's a beautiful soul. I will also say, I've never see Cam so excited, to have his family be part of the work. She literally said, "This makes my life. To be able to contribute to my son's life is why I'm here." It was a beautiful family experience. That was a first for us on the creative side, for sure.
I understand Cam was involved pretty closely in the creative, too.
In March, when we had our first meetings with Cam out in L.A., we just listened to where he was from a head-space perspective. Cam came to our campus when we came up with the idea and pitched it to him. And his excitement—we almost called him a creative director with this spot. He chose his wardrobe, he added flair. There's wolves that show up in the spot. He wanted the drama of how he feels, the weight on his shoulders and his life, to really come out in this piece. He was so engaged and involved and passionate about telling his story, to inspire the next generation. Our athletes are always with us on the journey from concept to creation, but Cam had a specific hand in the creation of this spot. We're a brand that feels that entrepreneurship is the best way to be. And if we have an athlete who wants to roll up his sleeves and get involved in the process, we love it.
You've got a metaphor and storytelling going on in the spot, and you've also got footwear and the product pitch. How do you balance those two?
It's a needle we thread tightly, and it's not always easy. What we know is, you first have to pull consumers in first. We've got to create sticky, breakthrough, revolutionary storytelling. That's what captures the hearts of the athletes and consumers. The Phelps stuff is a good example of that. Then we follow up this big body of work—there's a long-form, there's a :60, there's a :30—by going deeper into product storytelling in digital and social. So. what you'll see surrounding this bigger body of work are many different pieces of creative, from product marketing to Snapchat integrations, where you're zooming in close on footwork with interactive gaming—a first ever on Snapchat. We want to be where young athletes are, and we're going to tell them how our athletes perform—and that's where you start to lean heavily into product marketing. It's always this one-two punch of pulling them in with emotion and then going very deep with product marketing.
There's different pieces to it. Part one is reminding athletes why footwork is so important. We're doing a partnership with Sport Science on ESPN. We're going to do some content creation with some of our best football players. We're going to remind kids that it starts with footwork. The "So what?" for us is giving kids content to help them actually get better. And that's all going to happen in digital and social. Then there's being entertaining along the way, so the gaming piece—with the NFL and Snapchat and Twitch partnership. Entertaining through gaming, entertaining through Snapchat, and then reminding them that this is the shoe you've got to have.
And then when you take it all the way down the funnel to UA.com, we're creating a world—it's actually called A Cam World—and you get in there and it's about the cleat, the C1N cleat, the Highlight cleat. The C1N cleat is the No. 1 cleat in football right now. And we're also going to give head-to-toe solutions, called "Cam's Picks." The other thing we know and love about Cam is his style. He is part of culture. Whether you love it or hate it, you cannot ignore the product that Cam shows up in every day. We're going to have a section on UA.com that's about Cam's Picks, and it's from the toe up. And that's how we start to weave in a really relevant product marketing story, so the consumer is completely satisfied with the solutions from Under Armour, from head to toe.
You mention the Phelps spot. Can you talk about how "Rule Yourself" led to "It Comes From Below"?
We plan 18 months out. In 2015, we wanted to start the year with "Rule Yourself" and training. We knew the Olympics were coming, and all our athletes were in preparation mode, whether it was to start the next season or to go to the Games. Sport is the only industry left where you can truly do this authentically—maximize real-time sport moments to bring the consumer into our brand, win their share of heart, win their share of mind, and ultimately win their share of wallet. So, we talked about ruling yourself, head down, training, when the lights are off is when it all happens, and when the lights come on—i.e., the Olympics—that's when you see the win. "It's what happens in the dark that puts you in the light." If you remember, the first "Rule Yourself" spot was about true repetition. It was that visual and sonic approach, with a thousand Currys and a thousand Speiths. That was to overexaggerate the point about hard work. It's not beautiful, it's not sexy, but that 10 percent gets you from good to great. Then we went into an honoring and a celebration of "The lights are out right now for Phelps and our gymnastics team, but you just wait 100 days and see what happens." We were able to really pull that campaign, starting in March, all the way through to September, because we knew we had to prep for the Games and come back during the Games and celebrate. That was an awesome communications strategy that we talked about 12 months ago.
Our next chapter—once we were able to get credibility, again, in the world of training—it came back to the business initiative for the company. And the business initiative, the win for Under Armour over the next five years, is footwear. If you look at focus groups and talk to consumers, our brand right now is a powerhouse when it comes to apparel. Footwear is the opportunity to win market share and attract kids all over the world. So we are now talking, in the moments that matter the most, the moments of truth—the MLB All-Star Game, the first game of a football season, where runners are out there with run crews banging the pavement—you're seeing us launch very strategically during those key moments. And we're telling a footwear story, but not what you would expect, which is normal product marketing. It's through the heart of that athlete, and then delivering the product marketing. And you're going to see that from us, by the way, through 2017. Footwear is going to continue to be our initiative through our biggest and best athletes in the world.
Client: Under Armour
Campaign: "It Comes From Below"
Spot: "Prince With 1000 Enemies"
Creative Chairman: David Droga
Chief Creative Officer: Ted Royer
Group Creative Directors: Felix Richter, Alex Nowak
Senior Copywriter: Thom Glover
Senior Art Director: Eoin McLaughlin
Chief Creation Officer: Sally-Ann Dale
Executive Producer: David Cardinali
Senior Broadcast Producer: Bill Berg
Associate Producer: Troy Smith
Head of Integrated Production Business Affairs: Dianne Richter
Global Chief Strategy Officer: Jonny Bauer
Head of Strategy: Harry Roman
Strategy Director: Sam Matthews
Head of Communications Strategy: Colleen Leddy
Communications Strategy Director: Hillary Heath
Communications Strategist: Kathryn Ruocco
Data Strategist: Kaveri Gautam
Executive Group Director: Julian Cheevers
Group Account Director: Shane Chastang
Account Supervisor: Lucy Santilli
Project Manager: Connor Hall
Client: Under Armour
Chief Executive Officer, Founder: Kevin Plank
Chief Marketing Officer: Kip Fulks
Senior Vice President, Global Brand Management: Adrienne Lofton
Senior Vice President, Global Communications: Diane Pelkey
Vice President, Global Creative: Brian Boring
Vice President, Global Consumer Engagement: Jim Mollica
Senior Director, Global Brand Management: Leon Duncan
Senior Director, Integrated Brand Communications: Jack Daley
Director, Campaign Integration: Teresa Oles
Manager, Campaign Integration: Bené Eaton
Production Company: Somesuch / Anonymous Content
Director: Aoife McArdle
Partners, Somesuch: Sally Campbell, Tim Nash
Managing Director, Anonymous: Eric Stern
Executive Producer, Anonymous: SueEllen Clair
Producer: Laurie Boccaccio
Director of Photography: Steve Annis
Production Manager: Yianni Papadopoulos
Editing: Final Cut
Editor: Dan Sherwen:
Assistant Editors: Geoff Hastings, Dan Berk
Executive Producer: Sarah Roebuck
Head of Production: Jen Sienkwicz
Producer: Jamie Nagler
Executive Producer: Charlotte Arnold
Producer: Megan Sweet
Visual Effects Supervisor: Iwan Zwarts
Color Transfer: Company 3
Artist: Tom Poole
Coloring Assitant: Kath Raisch
Producer: Clare Movshon
Sound Design: Factory U.K.
Final Mix: Sound Lounge
Engineers: Tom Jucarone, Justin Kooy, Seth Phillips
Producer: Liana Rosenberg
Executive Producer: Mike Gullo