UnderArmour bursts into the Games in Rio and triumphs with Michael Phelps

UnderArmour says goodbye to the legend Michael Phelps in Rio with the promotional video #RuleYourself, a campaign that refers to changes in the #Rule40 of the Olympic Charter and reinforces the brand philosophy of the company from Baltimore

UnderArmour knew they had hit the nail on the head the day they managed to bring Michael Phelps and his girlfriend, Nicole, to tears as they watched the commercial video they had prepared to honor him in his farewell to competition at the Olympic Games in Rio, where the best swimmer of all time was destined to be one of the big stars of the event. Not only because he had targeted six medals that would leave him with a record 28 medals in four Olympic appearances, but because it would be the last Games of his brilliant career.

UnderArmour was the only one of the three major sportswear brands present at the Olympic Games (along with Nike and Adidas) that has never been an official sponsor of the Games. Nor was it necessary on this occasion for them to make the most of their investment in athletes. The changes in the controversial Rule 40 of the IOC Olympic Charter gave the Baltimore company the perfect opportunity to break strongly into the Games and excite the audience.

For the first time ever, the International Olympic Committee allowed all brands, whether they were official sponsors of the Olympic Games or not, to use the image of their athletes in commercials during the days of competition. Before Rio 2016, only the 11 official sponsors of the IOC (among them Nike, McDonalds, Coca-Cola and VISA) could monetize their sponsorship in the Games. “The changes in Rule 40 will allow us to meet our No. 1 objective, which is to support the nearly 225 athletes linked to the UnderArmour brand during the Games,” said Adrienne Lofton, marketing executive of UnderArmour. And that they certainly did.

They studied the conditions of the new IOC rule conditions to the letter and got down to work. Advertising campaigns could not start later than March 27 and had to remain active without interruption; nor could words be used that were directly related to the event such as Olympic Games, Rio, gold or summer. The ban period was established from July 27 to August 24.

The #RuleYourself video of Michael Phelps first appeared on March 8 and is about to exceed 11 million views on YouTube. The legend that the American swimmer has managed to build around himself perfectly reflects the values of UnderArmour, a brand that was created in 1996 to challenge the Nike empire and has forged its success with a completely opposite message: from ‘Just do it’ to ‘I will’ there is much more than a change of philosophy.

UnderArmour has long been considered what Americans call an ‘underdog brand’, a brand of aspirers. And they don’t deny it. Quite the contrary, they take advantage from their obligatory comparison with Nike. In their sponsorship strategy they back those who respond not to the cry of ‘Just do it’, but that of ‘I Will’. Through effort, conviction, the spirit of self-improvement and sacrifice. ‘It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light’, says its campaign #RuleYourself.

“We focus on athletes that who would not have chosen by most in the first round of any ‘draft’ nor would be conferred the title of ‘prima donna’. We are interested in people who are starting to emerge and are recognized for their desire to succeed because it is what aligns with our own attitude. We will help them on their way towards becoming the best. Many brands focus on the initial motivation –just do it, get up, go– but we believe that persisting in the effort and commitment is what makes the difference for an elite athlete, and UnderArmour wants to be the brand that shows them how to do that,” says Lofton.

UnderArmour bursts into the Games in Rio and triumphs with Michael Phelps - Johan Cruyff Institute


Steve Curry is now considered the best player in the NBA, but was virtually unknown when UnderArmour noticed him. The USA women’s gymnastics team has enjoyed the patronage of UnderArmour since 2013. Had anyone heard of ‘little’ Simone Biles before the Games in Rio, where she won five medals? UnderArmour clearly had. And make a note of this name: Eniola Aluko, who plays for Chelsea Ladies and the England women’s football team, and is the first athlete of that nationality to be sponsored by the brand.

UnderArmour bursts into the Games in Rio and triumphs with Michael Phelps - Johan Cruyff Institute


Social networks are a good thermometer to measure people’s preferences for athletes and brands at a major sporting event. UnderArmour and its athletes have also won several medals in this regard. Michael Phelps was the athlete most mentioned on Twitter during the Olympic Games, and the live video he posted on Facebook before his last race was the most watched video of the Games with more than 3.97 million views. Simone Biles broke the record on Twitter: a photo of the gymnast with the actor ZacEfron was the most retweeted, with 163,459 interactions.


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