Under Armour’s Powerful Michael Phelps Olympics Training Film Expands Ongoing ‘Rule Yourself’ Campaign

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On 8 March at the company’s headquarters in Baltimore Under Armour first debuted the newest short film from its ongoing ‘Rule Yourself’ campaign in the form of video focusing on World and Olympic champion swimmer Michael Phelps and his all-consuming training programme.


Built around the core concept of ‘J.O.M.O.’ (Joy Of Missing Out), the campaign is spearheaded by a flagship 90-second TV commercial that follows the most decorated Olympian in history’s brutally tough workouts and recovery sessions to shape his body and performance for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympic Games.


The tagline ‘It’s What You Do in the Dark That Puts You in the Light’ highlights a side of his life not seen in TV interviews or when standing on the podium: it is a story of sacrifice and determination on his journey towards one last shot at glory and consolidate his lifetime legacy in the sport.


The spot, which is set to The Kills ‘The Last Goodbye’, was developed agency Droga5.



It fronts a evolving 360-degree global ‘Rule Yourself’ story, playing out in harness with media partners such as TBS, ESPN, NBC, ABC, Viacom Networks, Turner, Complex, PopSugar, Adult Swim, and Hulu, plus plenty of cinema placement, as well as digital and social assets across Under Armour channels from www.youtube.com/underarmour to @UnderArmour and #RuleYourself on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram and even via downloads of UA RECORD on the brand’s fitness community through iTunes and Google Play and more.


The core film is further supported by an online video portraying Phelps and his fiancee watch the new spot for the first time at Under Armour’s headquarters – which it seems struck an emotional chord.



‘In our eyes, there is no one who can tell the story of what it takes to be successful in training better than Michael Phelps,’ outlines Adrienne Lofton, senior vice president, global brand marketing for Under Armour.


‘Despite Michael’s visibility in the public sphere, it is the work he puts in behind the scenes that truly defines his quest for greatness. By shining a light on those moments in this campaign, we hope to inspire all athletes to push beyond their perceived limitations.’


‘Under Armour has been a longtime partner of mine and truly understands the ins and outs of my training,’ said Phelps.


‘Being a part of this campaign before heading into competitions this summer is an unbelievable honor; it speaks to not only the work that has gone into my career, but also the love for my sport that makes the sacrifices and challenges everyday worth it.’


The initial umbrella ‘Rule Yourself’ initiative first debuted in August 2015 with an ad starring three big name brand ambassadors – ballerina Misty Copeland, golfer Jordan Speth and baller Steph Curry – multiplying into an athlete army training hard.


The global marketing campaign amplifies Under Armour’s vision of training as the focal point of an athlete’s everyday life and this original spot closes with the line ‘You are the sum of all your training #RuleYourself #IWILL’’ (see case study).



While this current evolution strand of the campaign – carrying the tagline ‘It’s what you do in the dark, that puts you in the light’ has already been illustrated with two ads and matching social engagement programmes in 2016 (both rolled out on 23 February): one for UK audiences starring Holland and Manchester United footballer Memphis Depay



and the other for the USA that features the USA women’s gymnastics team.



All three strands aim to honour the commitment to the 24/7 grind that each athlete pushes through in order to succeed when their moment in the spotlight comes and explore the single-minded training in in relentless pursuit of sporting greatness.


‘This chapter of our Rule Yourself campaign is the natural evolution of Under Armour’s training ethos,’ adds Lofton.


‘As a company built by athletes, we truly understand an athlete’s never-ending quest to reach greatness and we want to showcase and honor their sacrifices. By providing this peek behind the curtain of our athlete’s lives, we hope to inspire young athletes all over the world to push beyond their perceived limitations in order to achieve their ultimate goals. We truly believe it’s what athletes do in the dark, when no one is watching, that ultimately puts them in the spotlight they deserve.’


‘When Under Armour brought the Rule Yourself concept forward, it really spoke to who our athletes are and the drive it takes to be the best,’ chips in USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny.


‘Our gymnasts dedicate the majority of every day to training and school, often beginning before everyone wakes up and after everyone has gone to bed, all to be the best they possibly can be. This commitment is demonstrated day in and day out for years, with the ultimate goal of achieving perfection, and that attitude and determination are what Under Armour understands better than anyone else.’


While Depay commented that : ‘Football is a sport where an entire game, year and career can change in a split second. To prepare for those moments, I have to sacrifice the now to focus on the future, to train relentlessly knowing that when the moment comes, I’ll be ready. Under Armour truly gets that and I’m proud to tell this side of the story through Rule Yourself.’




In addition to scooping the Film Craft Grand Prix at Cannes Lions 2016 (the ultimate ad award) Under Armour’s Michael Phelps film is one of the most shared Olympics spots of all time.


According to Droga5 strategy co-head Harry Roman, the spot is shareable because it conveys sacrifice.


‘I think people connect with this film because it paints hard work and sacrifice with beautiful strokes, but does so in a way that is raw and real about what it takes to win. I would like to think that this film and the stirring lyrics, ‘It’s The Last Goodbye,’ are playing in the back of people’s minds when they see him smiling on the podium. We probably won’t ever see another athlete like Michael Phelps for a very long time,’ he argues.


Part of Under Armour’s Olympic success was down to it understanding and leveraging the new (so-called) IOC Rule 40 – which brought an end to the long-established rights holder and host nation legislated in-games marketing blackout for companies that sponsor athletes but not the event itself.


Brands can benefit from paying lower fees for athlete ambassador deals rather than official event rights, thus potentially enabling them to spend more on strategy, the creative and the media.


So, while the ad initially launched back in March (it notched up an impressive 764,428 YouTube views in its first 24 hours) this approach seems to be succeeding.), Under Armour was able to tweet a link to the spot (with its #RuleYourself hashtag, an American flag and an applauses emoji) seconds after Phelps won his record-breaking 20th Olympic gold medal.


Data from social video data outfit Unruly suggests that spot is the second most shared Olympics ad through 2016 (behind UK Paralympic broadcaster’s ‘We’re The Superhumans’ – see case study – which currently ranks as the fifth most shared Olympics ad ever).


So why, according to the statistics, is it so shareable?


The film strikes and emotional chord – particularly with its millennial (18 to 34-year-old) male target audience – through the happiness and surprise of the narrative and the visual storytelling sense of drama (and the emotive track by The Kills).


According to Unruly, the film ‘elicited a sense of inspiration’ among 47% of total viewers and 68% of millennial men, while 22% reported ‘a feeling amazement’.


‘Something we’ve learned from all of the ads we tested if we look at different demographics and the emotions that are most resonant to them, for millennials – especially male millennials – inspiration is one of the top emotions. If that is present at all in an ad, they tend to experience it,’ explains Unruly marketing and insight VP Devra Prywes.


Unruly stats show that 56% of the spots’ shares thus far have come from Facebook and 28% from Twitter.



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