Can Under Armour be a loud brand and quiet company in India

Under Armour expands in India while supporting the Indian Women Ice Hockey Team with #IndiaWill

If you can’t stop thinking about it, don’t stop working for it.

“Women can't play hockey—this hockey is only for the men,” Stanzin Dolker, is one of the revolters challenging the Ladakh Winter Sports Club against the discrimination. In the early 2000 girls were not allowed to play the sport so they started revolting against the injustice. The ban eventually petered out and in 2005 Stanzin and her classmates from Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) played an exhibition game and got heartwarming support. (Sam Goldman for Huffington Post does an excellent piece on the journey of Indian women’s ice hockey team.)

Ladakh is the only region that has produced every member of the women’s national ice hockey team. The struggle so far is nothing short of an inspiration - practicing on frozen ponds that last for only two months, borrowing equipments and surviving on a few lakhs of funding from the government.

Seven years after the men’s team was formed, the Ice Hockey Association of India held tryouts for a women’s squad. Representing India for the first time on 22 March 2016, the girls participated in the five-team Challenger Cup of Asia. Even though the team’s performance was substandard, they kept on working hard and got better in the game. Finally, in the 2017 Challenger Cup, the Indian girls tasted their first success after defeating the Philippines by 4-3. Speaking to Huffington Post, Disket Angmo shared:

“I couldn't believe it was happening for real. We were hoping we could at least get a win, and then when it happens, it's like a dream come true, you know? All the criticisms, all the hard work, suffering, the difficulty that we had gone through up until that time—it all poured out.”

Disket, a defender in the team started her journey from skating. “Several girls started with figure skating and gradually tried their hand at ice hockey. I found it more interesting,” she said.

This victory made the team an overnight star and captured the interest of Hayley Wickenheiser, a four-time ice hockey Olympic gold medallist from Canada. “She met the team in 2018 and requested IHAI to get the women’s team for a Hockey Coaching program in Canada along with participation in WICKFEST – Wickenheiser Female World Hockey Festival in Calgary,” she said to The Better India.

#IndiaWill

Ice hockey is an expensive sport, so far the team has managed to live on donations, crowdfunding campaigns and mere support from the government. However, a new ray of hope has emerged with Under Armour supporting the team.

Earlier in March 2019, the global sports brand launched its first store in Delhi with plans to open 10 stores in the country in the next 12 months. This development mushrooms after having an online retail exclusive partnership with Amazon India from 2017.

Under Armour targeting teens to consumers in their late 30s has recently launched its first campaign #IndiaWill. Conceptualised by Dentsu Webchutney, the film is an inspiring story of the Indian women ice hockey team who came from villages, with almost no support kept on trying and finally shook hands with success.

According to the brand, the film is one of the stories of the Story of Will campaign. The brand has partnered with the Ice Hockey Association of India to provide the team with gear that will help them perform better and push their limits.

Social media is promoting the film and creating awareness about the women’s team. Before the launch, the brand was pushing “Stories of Will”, a global campaign where it has an association with leading global athletes.

Stories of Will

“I think there are many versions of myself. With each version I keep evolving,” believes Zoe Zhang an actress and taekwondo black belt holder. She is also one of the brand ambassadors of Under Armour that featured in last year’s marketing campaign called “Will Finds a Way”. The brand tied up with Droga5 to celebrate grit, ambition and the willingness to be the hardest-working person in the room.

8 athletes and inspiring fitness icons were introduced by The Rock aka Dwayne Douglas Johnson - the man who wanted to be a football player but destiny had other plans, he became a professional wrestler and today is an icon. “So how did I get here,” asks Dwayne in the brand video. “By being the hardest worker in the room.”

According to a list produced in 2018 by research company Spotted, Under Armour's association with Dwayne was ranked as the best-matched celebrity-brand partnership in the fashion and retail sectors. The brand continues its association with Dwayne for the Project Rock Bend Boundaries - a collection representing Dwayne’s push to be better every time he steps in the gym. This also marked the introduction of Lindsey Vonn, former world cup alpine ski racer as Project Rock's first-ever ambassador.

Under Armour, a performance wear company has focussed on celebrating stories of performers who keep working hard and don’t give up. The “I Will” campaigns reflect the same brand belief which continues forward with the #IndiaWill campaign.

Are the marketing efforts paying?

Teens find Under Armour an “old” brand

Kevin Plank, founder, and CEO at Under Armour is stepping down and is handing over the reins to its president Patrik Frisk. The change at the top comes when the company is struggling and the North American business continues to shrink.

Speaking to Fortune, Kevin emphasised that the decision is a personal one, even when he had some tough times with the board. In his new role, Kevin will work on product innovation and serve as an ambassador of sorts.

Founded in 1996, the brand started soaring by the early 2000s, by 2004 sales exceeded by $200 million and in 2005 the company went public raising $157 million. Problems started surfacing in 2017 when the company reported its first quarterly loss and stock fell more than 40%. It also became clear that the company missed the boat on the athleisure trend and decide to become more fashionable. In 2017 the founder upset many customers by praising President Trump, calling him “a real asset for the country.”

By 2018 it was clear that Under Armour lost its appeal among its former customer base. A survey revealed that Under Armour was the No 1 most cited “old” brand teens no longer were wearing. 

Analysts believe that Under Armour’s “lack of brand clarity” is one of the serious issues when it comes to differentiating itself from competitors like Adidas and Nike. Uncertainty still continued when the company missed sales expectations for the second quarter in 2019 and shares fell 15%.

Digital - the massive opportunity

CEO Kevin thinks that despite bumpy road over the past three years the company can be back on the front foot. Speaking to Business Insider, Kevin emphasised that the brand has yet not tapped into the power of digital and connected fitness platform app that has 275 million users and over 80,000 downloads every day. 

In 2013, Under Armour buys MapMyFitness for $150 million, followed by Endomondo for $85 million and MyFitnessPal for $475 million in 2015. All three acquisitions of the fitness and health-focused apps were part of the company’s efforts to expand its digital offering. 

“So we've got the ability for a brand new digital handshake with the consumer. Making sure that we're reaching them where they want to be and how they interact, how they shop, how they utilize the brand is something that's a massive opportunity for us. We haven't unlocked that yet and I think as we do, that's one of the things we look at and say, “Look out.””

Addressing the Indian sportswear market and young India

According to the Euromonitor research, the Indian sportswear market grew from Rs.24,000 crore in 2014 to Rs.37,000 crore in 2016 at more than 50% over the past two years. The study forecasts that the market will grow by 11.3% in 2016-2021 period. The Indian market is dominated by big international brands like Reebok, Adidas, Nike, and Puma. Most of these brands entered India in the 1990s.

In 2018, Puma topped the sportswear and athleisure category in India, recently launched the Propah lady campaign featuring Mary Kom, Dutee Chand, Sara Ali Khan, and Anjali Lamba. According to LiveMint, the campaign’s core narrative goes beyond breaking stereotypes, instead, it drives home the focus on recognizing how women are taking stand and living unapologetically.

Men have been driving the Indian sportswear market but not anymore. Women’s share in the category has gone up and brands are tapping on the segment. Japanese sportswear company Asics, who's running gear contribute 70% to its topline in India, says women running shoes now make up 22% of the pie compared to 12% a few years ago. Puma women’s category is one of the fastest-growing, contributing to 30% of the business.

Another segment that is driving the sportswear market is the young population of India. Young India wants to look fit and most importantly look good on Instagram. Performance wear is a small market in India and today youngsters want to look sporty and fashionable, doesn’t matter if they don’t play a sport.

This opened up the athleisure market in India which is growing at 18-20% and is expected to touch roughly $8 billion by 2020. “Globally, India only accounts for 2% of the athleisure market, which is worth about $300 billion. Even though we are only 2% of the global market, there is huge legroom to grow,” said Deloitte India partner Rajat Wahi to Fortune India.

Under Armour has a tough task in hand since it wants to focus as a performance brand. Indian teenagers want to look fashionable and Under Armour wants to stay away from the athleisure market.

“If you're a company that has a mission, that Under Armour makes you better, that's very clear. But I also believe that as you think about the athleisure market versus the athletic market, I think people have got it wrong. We don't separate between the two, 'cause we understand that our consumer wants something that is beautiful, that looks great,” said Patrik Frisk.

Under Armour wants to tap a new and a small market in India for which awareness levels are limited. Additionally, how many people in India are aware of Ice Hockey as a professional sport, forget India having a women’s ice hockey team that has such an inspiring story. So before customers can even think of Under Armour’s performance gear in India, Under Armour will have to invest immense capital and resources in offline and online marketing.

Can the growing Indian likeness towards long-distance running be the market for Under Armour? The next few years will tell whether the brand aligned with Kevin’s ongoing vision of being a “loud brand and a quiet company."

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