When you think of sports shoe product development and certain brands, specific launches just stick out in your mind. Nike Air. Reebok Pump. Adidas . . . Torsion? Nah, just kidding, Adidas Boost! You get the point. Now Under Armour is launching what it hopes will be the foundation for much of its athletic footwear lines for years to come: HOVR.
HOVR is a new running shoe technology the brand has developed that it says combines best-in-class cushioning with unprecedented energy return, to help runners run faster while cutting down the impact on their bodies. Under Armour is rolling it out initially with two models, the Phantom and Sonic, both available with a high-fidelity sensor embedded in the shoe that connects to the brand’s MapMyRun app.
Senior vice president of global brand management Adrienne Lofton says it’s the largest product marketing campaign that the company has ever taken on, and the first time a product is launching globally at the same time. “It’s the biggest from an investment perspective and it’s the most global,” she says. “We’re launching around the world on the exact same day–February 1–with the exact same message from a macro perspective that also utilizes the muscle of our regions to really drive the story on a more local level in a way that makes sense for that market.”
To do that, the brand has enlisted local run crews in cities like Shanghai, Berlin, and New York to both test the new shoes and spread the word once they hit the streets. The brand is setting up what it calls HOVR House event spaces around the globe to act as a social and content hub for runners. It kicks off in Shanghai, then Los Angeles, and will be in Austin for SXSW, and Washington, D.C., for the annual Cherry Blossom run.
The launch comes at a crucial time for Under Armour. Years of skyrocketing sales and growing stock value had it gunning for traditional sports giants Nike and Adidas, but over the last year that momentum hit a wall. The company reported two consecutive quarters of losses, and the stock price saw a major dip. HOVR represents its goals to appeal to hardcore runners as well as the broader audience of casual athletes.
“The first thing any athlete is looking for–regardless if you’re a runner or a team sport athlete–you’re looking for an incredible running shoe that can actually help you perform and get better,” says Lofton. “So it always came back to running, running, running, this is where we need to be.”
The role of experiential in this marketing strategy came out of the brand’s relationship with run crews like New York’s Harlem Run and London Brunch Club. “Run crew members are everyday people who run for fun, community, sanity, and health, and we got so many valuable insights from them on not only the product, but also how to tell the story of the product,” says Lofton. “As we listened to what they were telling us, we realized experiential needs to be at the center. It’s about delivering the right experiences at the right time, that are attention-worthy, then engaging digital and social to be the microphone for it.”
Lofton says they also took lessons from the launches of the Curry 4 basketball shoe, and Dwayne Johnson’s Project Rock collaboration, particularly for the role of social. “Our Curry launches have been incredibly successful, and mastering the unboxing experience has been a big lesson and something we’re constantly trying to improve,” Lofton says. “When we launched the Project Rock line, it completely sold out, and that storytelling was only done through [Johnson’s] and our social and digital channels. So maximizing digital, leading through social, all of these things are lessons we’ve learned, now we’re taking those lessons to HOVR.”