Blood, Sweat, And Cheers: New Under Armour Campaign Aims To Make Hard Work Cool

The brand shows how global soccer star Memphis Depay, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, and more get in shape for the spotlight.

There is no doubt that we are armpit-deep in the era of instant gratification. Movies, TV, music, food, shopping, travel, photos, friends, and more are accessible and immediately available at the tap of a fingertip. But as easy to get as so much in life has become, a few things remain as tough as ever to achieve. One of them is athletic excellence. There are no shortcuts. You still have to put in the work to get the results. That fact provides the basis for Under Armour’s “Rule Yourself” campaign, launched last year with an army of Stephen Currys, Misty Copelands, and Tom Bradys. Now the brand is launching the campaign’s second phase, which takes a closer look at the work required by delving deeper into the life of elite athletes.


The next stage of the campaign, once again by agency Droga5, features the tagline “It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light” to show the 24/7 commitment to training as the common thread among athletes at the top of their game. The first two spots feature soccer star Memphis Depay, who plays for Manchester United and the Netherlands national team, and the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. Beyond the spots, Under Armour’s senior vice president of global brand marketing Adrienne Lofton says that this is the next chapter in an overall strategy aimed to reinforce the idea that success isn’t easy.

“It’s about instilling in people, but especially young athletes, that success comes from repetition, determination, and will,” says Lofton. “In this world of social media and fast wins, the real wins come when you put the work in. When it’s not done right, it can be the most unsexy conversation you can have. But it’s so critical to the athlete, we wanted to figure out how to flip that conversation on its head. How do you have a really compelling conversation with athletes to remind them that social media makes it all look so easy, when the reality is that it’s really hard? But the hard part is worth it.”

The brand will also be talking to fans and everyday athletes about their own training and using that, as well as the brand’s growing connected fitness platform, as a key component to its social and digital work.

“The opportunity in this next chapter is figuring out how we can go deeper—how do we show a peek behind the curtain of what it takes to be an elite athlete?” asks Lofton.

The brand intentionally picked athletes at different stages in their careers and progression, to show the various stages of training and success. “There’s Michael Phelps, the winningest swimmer in the world, or Memphis Depay, who’s just starting to become the footballer people expect and hope him to be,” says Lofton. “Or the gymnasts who are part of a legendary program, but these girls haven’t proven themselves yet. All of them are going through what it takes to compete at their level. It’s the hustle, it’s the training. It’s the pain, it’s the fun, and that’s what will bring them out to the light.”

Depay is in the midst of a tough season with Manchester United, becoming a lightning rod for the team’s overall lack of success, and criticized by fans for not being worth the big money the club paid for him over the summer. Depay told Co.Create that he liked the idea behind the campaign and saw it as an opportunity to show a different side of himself.


“I was able to put my own vision into it and had the freedom to decide what exercises I’d be doing in the gym and what parts of my training and life would be part of it,” says Depay. “That’s what makes it real—these are really the things I do off the pitch to train and be ready to play.”

Lofton says the trials Depay has been facing this season are a perfect reason for him to be in a campaign like this. “If you notice in the spot for Memphis, he hasn’t stepped into the light yet,” says Lofton. His tagline is ‘What you do in the dark is what will put you in the light.’ He knows that he has a long road ahead of him, he gets a lot of criticism thrown his way, and we love this idea of going against the idea of what it is to be a footballer in Europe, which is often portrayed as glitz and glamour. But the reality is it’s hard freakin’ work. You see the part in the spot when the fan heckles him on the street—these are all based on real moments for him.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.