Under Armour’s Big China Opportunity


The time is just right for the American sportswear maker in China. Here’s why!

In September last year, Under Armour’s chief executive Kevin Plank outlined the brand’s sales optimism despite concerns over China’s slowing growth.

Despite the brand’s later arrival in China, compared to Nike and Adidas, we agree that signs look good for Under Armour to become a new force in China’s sportswear category.

As part of Resonance’s SMART TRENDS (to be released in May this year), we identify key cultural movements that are impacting categories here in China. From this analysis, we have noticed several trends that Under Armour can leverage to localize and drive the brand successfully in China.

Read on to see how Under Armour can win in China by leveraging these trends.


Under Armour’s CEO Kevin Plank: Optimistic about Asia

1. The New Performance Mindset

Increasingly Chinese consumers are thinking about measuring and analyzing their performance. This is most visible in the area of health and fitness, where personal metrics are being measured on smart devices or through digital platforms. Nike’s recent digital campaign – Nike Run Club – showed the popularity of personal metrics amongst China’s growing running community.

Under Armour’s brand story is very tightly focused on the role of sportswear in personal performance – the brand has the pedigree to engage this trend with authority. 

2. The Move of Luxury to High-end Sport

As spending on luxury has cooled in China, consumers have gravitated to high-end sportswear as a substitute – something that suits the local preference in practicality. An important aspect of this trend is the focus consumers place on fabric and materials – the very thing that means sportswear can still indicate status and a certain level of economic success.

In this context, Under Armour’s product communication is focused on specific innovations and materials unique to the brand – this speaks directly to the mindset of consumers buying sportswear from a luxury starting point.

3. Possible Liability – Celebrity Mix is Not Quite China Enough

Phelps _副本

Recent Under Armour ad featuring Michael Phelps

Under Armour packs some serious sports star punch including NBA star Stephen Curry, Olympic legend Michael Phelps, NFL quarterback Tom Brady, “The Rock” Dwayne Johnson, Fashion model Gisele Bundchen and dancer Misty Copeland. However the star balance is naturally very American, with a substantial representation from NFL football and MLB baseball – a world largely unknown to Chinese consumers.

While Steve Curry is huge for basketball-obsessed China, it feels other Under Armour athletes are strongly associated with the U.S., which feels ‘off-tone’ in an Olympic year. This will be a strategic issue for the brand’s story and category role in China, with Nike, Li Ning and Anta enjoying sponsorship of most of the China’s Olympic superstar talent.

The option is for Under Armour to develop a broader story that captures the experience of training and performance, not one tied to specific individuals or nations.

For more on China’s sportswear category – expected to overtake luxury in value by 2020 – access our CSBR report on Nike’s China Digital Strategy.
Join as a CSBR Member – to gain access to all our CSBR Reports instantly.


About Author

Jerry Clode

Jerry Clode is Head of Digital & Social Insight at Resonance. He leads Resonance SMART, providing leading-edge research, strategy and naming for brands in China using bespoke methodologies. Jerry also produces Resonance's popular China Social Branding Report, a bi-weekly publication covering modern marketing methods of the world's top brands.

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