AT AN EVENT last week to launch Under Armour's first line of running shoes, the company's senior vice president for brand, Steve Battista, said the marketing campaign would begin on Jan. 1, 2009—"at 12:01 a.m." He's hardly exaggerating. Ads will air on postmidnight shows on MTV and on that day's bowl games on ESPN. Battista promises a "blitzkrieg" of publicity (a panoply of TV and print ads, a Times Square billboard), saying of Under Armour's strategy, "Patience and subtlety are not really in our game plan."
Behind the slogan "Athletes Run," Under Armour is taking a novel approach, targeting not just niche runners but also athletes who run as part of a wider training regimen. Shoe companies have traditionally built a base with runners first, but 13-year-old Under Armour—which expects to bring in about $750 million this year as what Battista calls "the tight T-shirt company"—will flood the market, selling in sporting goods stores as well as in runners boutiques. "As far as I know, no one's ever done it that way," says Warren Greene, shoe guru for Runner's World.
Under Armour began selling football cleats in 2006, baseball cleats in '07 and cross-trainers in '08. Running shoes are an obvious next step, accounting for 30% of sales in the U.S.'s growing $19 billion athletic shoe industry, according to the market research company NPD Group. But making inroads with the high-mileage runner is tricky.
"Runners are fussy," says Chris McCormack, the 2007 Ironman world champ and an Under Armour spokesman. McCormack helped create the shoe line, which offers six models (four for the road, two for the trail) that will retail for between $85 and $120. Each has a synthetic "cartilage" for support beneath the foot and a sleeve to keep the foot dry. "They didn't screw it up," says Greene, who's tested the line. "I mean that as a compliment."
In the last decade only Brooks and Mizuno have grabbed a significant market share from veterans such as Asics, Nike and Saucony in catering to dedicated runners. With Under Armour's loyal youth market, high name recognition and that unprecedented marketing strategy, the tight T-shirt company hopes to be next.