How Under Armour Makes Its Snapchat Ads In 5 Seconds or Less

The athletic brand continually tests the platform

As Snapchat builds out its ad business, bigger brands like Under Armour want to play ball.
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From virtual slam dunks to interactive mobile games, Under Armour is finding its groove on Snapchat.

Within the roster of brands continually testing new creative and ad formats, Under Armour is trying to rise to the top, and it’s using the social platform as its springboard. The strategy makes sense, as there’s a seemingly rational relationship between Under Armour and Snapchat, even more so than Instagram: Snapchat’s audience of under-16 sports fans match up well with Under Armour’s basketball gear, kind of like Russell Westbrook going one-on-one with Kyrie Irving.

As Snapchat builds out its ad business (it recently began aggressively courting smaller advertisers like ecommerce startups and mobile games), bigger brands like Under Armour want to play ball. In other words, “the real opportunity for brands on Snapchat is to move beyond video and create interactive experiences for consumers,” according to Jack Daley, senior director of social media strategy at Under Armour.

Time spent and affinity for Snapchat are two data points that “make it a high-priority platform for us.”

Snapchat’s ad formats run content for 10 seconds; Under Armour’s ads are designed to be watched in five or six seconds, with the main call-to-action popping up in under two seconds.

“If we can squeeze that main message to six seconds, we know it’s going to loop. If it didn’t resonate the first time, I’d rather them watch the ad one-and-a-half times in 10 seconds than risk them clicking away from it,” said Roni Sebastian, group creative director at Red Interactive, Under Armour’s digital agency.

“You want it to be really simple, fun and quick, so then you’re looking at a small subset of media opportunities,” said Nikki Shum-Harden, svp of client partnerships at Red Interactive. “With Snapchat, there’s a lot of creative flexibility that you don’t get with Instagram and other platforms that cater to that target audience.”

Specifically, Shum-Harden pointed out that Instagram’s audience prefers to consume content while Snapchat’s users like to make content. And this translates to how Under Armour creates ads for the platform.

For example, three weeks ago, Under Armour turned Dallas Mavericks point guard (and Under Armour-sponsored athlete) Dennis Smith Jr. into a Snapchat lens during the weekend of the NBA All-Star Dunk Contest. Consumers could use the lens to pose next to a 3D version of Smith, who was wearing Under Armour shoes. The lens was activated through QR code-like Snap Codes that were promoted on social media.

“The original ask was: What can we do to offer a valuable experience that entertains consumers in their target audience that associates Dennis Smith Jr.’s leaping abilities and ultimately connects him back to the brand?” Sebastian said. “Very few fans ever get to experience dunking a basketball, much less doing it over somebody’s head.”

The lens was created using Snapchat’s self-serve Lens Studio that lets any creator or designer make their own virtual graphics, “and there certainly was a learning curve with that,” Shum-Harden added.

First, the team had to create the custom art of Smith and animate him dunking a basketball in a way that fans would recognize him. During the design process, Red Interactive realized that they needed to create the hoop portion of the graphic so that users could pinch and zoom in on it, allowing them to flip the image around on the screen.

All told, Snapchat users spent an average of 79 seconds playing with the lens, suggesting that “Under Armour knows how to build for mobile impact,” said Jeff Miller, global head of creative strategy at Snapchat.

The lens campaign builds on Under Armour’s work with mobile games. In total, the Red Interactive team has created seven mobile games (one for Cam Newton, two for Steph Curry and four for the Winter Games) that let users play small games by swiping up on vertical video ads. One of the Steph Curry games was played more than 3 million times with the average user spending three minutes playing.

Over time, Under Armour has learned to promote the games with bits of creative from actual games because “you’re setting user expections—you’re not trying to lure them into an experience by tricking them into it,” said Sebastian.

Based on those learnings, Red Interactive and Under Armour now create Snapchat-specific content during commercial shoots for TV commercials. The brand has moved from “informing the pre-production stages on what can be shot and captured that can be repurposed to now often not even using any live action,” Sebastian added.

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.